this strange laryngitis
// may 2017
this strange laryngitis of thought
stretched between two centuries (taut)
tangled buildups & letdowns
whispered worlds / ghost towns
cloaked with yellow magic
forget mellow we're tragic
gilded age / flip to the next page
lavender & sage
like grownups don't have fun
& when it's done it's done
como te llamas'd
tripped on our fresh kicks
showed an old dog new tricks
sure less is more
like the difference between
eighty & four score.
don't you remember
new nissan december?
cold caresses / coca cola & condiments
a lonely mason jar filled with compliments
variable names / very able planes
(growing pains & soccer games)
we're sixteen minutes from adulthood
fixing green beans like we should
let's take a leave one more time
& make believe that we're fine
// september 2017
you told me home is where the heart is.
you fed me the word safe between my peanut butter and jelly
slipped security in my ice milk
i believed you because
somewhere between the blue ridge and the atlantic i live in a bubble
a grass-fed brick-walled white-columned bubble
home sweet home where the heart is /
charlottesville doesn't get trouble.
like a knock on the door at 4am
we woke up
to the light / to the white
alt-right & all wrong, you told me they came out of the woodwork
but i knew / i knew / i knew all along
i knew in golf courses & country clubs
i knew at brunches & auctions
i knew when i drove home everyday and saw people like me working for people like you
hands & knees wrists & elbows down / down / down
i knew when i heard my name from your lips like a question
an incorrectly pronounced question you didn't care about the answer to
i knew when i heard "pretty for a brown girl"
& "when's your arranged marriage"
because nothing's funnier than my grandmother's wedding at 15
60 loveless years of tradition that pumped blood into my veins / colored me in / made me whole
these things almost forgotten in the campus course list classless college classes
forgotten until charlottesville.
forgotten until the bubble popped / the struggle stopped us in our tracks
& you couldn't turn your backs
micro-aggression / casual degradation / under God, one nation
would you like me better if i looked like you?
is it not enough,
is it not enough i talk / walk / feel / kneel / dress
like you / why can't i impress like you
every step forward / two steps back
you said there were many sides
but it's not a polygon.
it's a dead woman / 19 injured
car crash / white trash / too brash?
i knew it was there (underneath)
i knew because
i can tell if you live in my neighborhood by the color of your skin.
i can tell when you give me that look
that who are you look
sorry brooke / i too, am charlottesville.
i, too am 22903
don't you forget about me
you want to fix this?
under pearly whites & manicures-
firm handshakes & hors d'oeuvres
don't golf swing this over & put your khakis back on
leave behind your picket fence
make change out of cents, remember heather's innocence
remember those your ancestors subjected to centuries of terror & offense
don't be dense / it's common sense
it's the little things that matter
respond to that distasteful chatter
if you do what you can & i do what i can
maybe when i see proud american on your sedan
i wont think of the ku klux klan
& maybe even though i'm brown
i'll feel safe in my hometown.
// december 2019
i wish my car had a sunroof so i could plant my feet in the backseat & emerge from the roof, arms outstretched, wind in my hair, smiling like a kid waiting for the world to end. & then the bass would drop & you’d surf your right hand across the waves of air passing over the side view mirror, your left lightly drumming the beat on the steering wheel, the ghost of the melody washing through us, raising the hair on our arms as we tried to forget what it means to exist.
but my car doesn’t have a sunroof & we never opened the windows. we’d sit in silence the whole way home only to find words at the end, in the dark driveway where we’d talk for hours, our playlist on repeat, our parents wondering where we were. it was then we searched for meaning & always came back empty-handed. it was then we fiddled with our rings, breathed each other’s breaths, closed our eyes & remembered what the world had in store for us.
if my car had a sunroof i would never use it. i’d rifle through the glove compartment & the console & my backpack & i’d never find the time. it’s all moving too fast now, now that we’re starting to know ourselves & starting to lose each other. & now we’re back to biting our nails, our keys vibrating in the ignition, damp palms grasping the gear shift, now more hopeless than ever. & now the car is moving & i’m in control & i look left right left & right again & i breathe in but it’s only my breath this time. & when i focus my eyes, the road stretching into darkness before me, i know time has gone & you have gone & there’s nothing left to do but drive.
// january 2017
curious george deserved better
cookie dough tastes like guilt without you
nobody said 17 would hurt this much
pick up my pieces / control alt delete
carrot candles & cutoff goodbyes
purple sunsets over soccer players
(buy one get one free)
you smell like regret
too-hot soup & invisibility
do you ever forget that saturn exists?
rotate me on my axis / count to thirteen
i'll take your smokescreen shadows & plead guilty
unbutton my soul
the pages of this book feel like you
like ice cubes sliding down my back
confused couch creases / battered blue blankets
do you remember my tears that morning?
you have notebook paper galaxies inside you
(tell me anything)
popsicle stick jokes / tenth grade tongue twisters
whisper into a mic
count the stairs & the stars
it's grilled cheese day!
left arm scar tissue / casual lean
let's make ben & kenny proud
your bookshelves overflowed
labelled bottles emptied
do it and you're cool.
remember me when you return to your planet
anchor yourself to
my pajama pants
crawl into this cocoon
tell me you'll get back to me on that
(so i know you'll be back)
thinly shredded cheese
let your voice-cracked lost years fill the silence
do penguins get cold?
friends don't let friends get face tattoos
you smell like remnants of laughter
wheelbarrows & apricots
trace constellations on my back
(song lyrics on my soul)
wrap me in freshly baked muffins beneath the moons
does lightning ever strike the same place twice?
dormant volcanoes want your
but i want your everything.
leave me behind /
feed me to the straightened auditorium /
drown me in disappointment /
trade me for a shoelace necklace
but don't forget
the man with the yellow hat was all wrong.
// february 2017
she can't sleep:
haunted by hair / havoc / hoodlums
wedged between one life and another
lies come so easily
off her tongue with
a hint of lime / mild disinterest /
quarter smile / the memory of last night
her dingy dignity (spinning)
back rubs & toe stubs
was it worth the
high fives five guys guys' eyes?
(she's two or three or four people at once)
she only exists
somewhere in the shadows behind the camera
inside out or upside down
drawn to the flame / scared all the same
// january 2017
sometimes when i can't find my way home i follow the trail of roadkill
remembering any one of us could be:
laid out on asphalt for a vulture's thanksgiving
ripped pieces over double yellow lines
w a i t i n g for an ambulance siren
to force everyone else to the side
golf courses & country clubs reject me
my competitive streak: evaporated
(i wish i hadn't told anyone)
betrayal isn't a recursive formula
you smell like unanswered questions
(i wish i wasn't like this)
assumptions are painful
but secrets tear me apart
soon i'll be roadkill
w a i t i n g for an ambulance siren
to force everyone else to the side
dr. troy said that 1 in 2 people die from a fall their same height
but dad said at least 50 feet
even navidad can't erase el hambre from mis ojos
la soledad stinging mis huesos
this celos will be the death of me.
i've been caught up in a sandstorm
& a hurricane
& a blizzard
but now: i'm caught up in you
(it's so much worse)
dark skinned teenagers shouldn't fear for their lives
but we do.
(our ancestors' wails bone deep)
those mechanical claws never pick the right stuffed animal
or anything at all
the pages of my books: too thin
(i wish i had never met you)
my gecko needs another haircut
but clouds are covering the stars
i'm not angry at you
(i'm angry because of you)
there aren't enough broken windows & scotch tapes for the both of us
stepladders & allergic reactions bring me back
to the taste of failure
a reputation to uphold
bullshit names & dates
i like cinnamon toast crunch (i'm a sinner)
filled to the brim with lies
sprinting out the front door
but soon i'll be roadkill
w a i t i n g for an ambulance siren
to force everyone else to the side
(& you won't have to worry anymore)
breathing but not remembering
// march 2017
i love you when you forget yourself in the sound of rain on the roof
in galaxies far far away
beneath fully grown denim trees & impossible moonlight
some things just don't make sense
you never explained your
mistrust / distrust
but i thought i found something i'd lost
in the palm of your hand
growing / glowing
did you hear me pray praise raise my eyes to the sky?
hotel rooms don't smell like home but neither does this family portrait
i'm fading from this life into another
where i can be a circle
with no beginning / middle / end
breathing but not remembering
this day is not today
if you loved me when i forgot myself in the feeling of leaves against my skin
beneath a broken waterfall
among keychain clovers & weary rivers
why did you let me go?
// december 2017
none of the words will ever fit what i'm trying to tell you.
you're a sliver of emotion
a tobacco-packed cocaine-cracked
giver of devotion.
toastier than toast / too difficult to roast
you're always verizoning &
stopping the horizoning
you have so much inside you
you just don't know.
you're a breathy laugh &
downward glancing gasp
you're broken glass under bonfires
tripwires / hands shaking
we're kid liars but jan's baking
how do we stop this aching?
forgotten halloweekends & jumps in the deep-ends
honestly, it depends
on transylvania / this trans-mania
booklet roles & bullet holes
don't worry, i'll put us in a good folks home.
half-eaten spinach salads
don't text back & i'll call you alex
we used to sing the same songs
on those hungover carpool-alongs
but now you're too far beyond me
up before dawn &
gone when it dawns on me
you're scraping stars with fucked-up fingertips
excuse my freudian slip but
you remember the times i trip
you're some sort of universal blip
you make me want to lilo and stitch the fabrics of our lives together.
can you meet me at J20
at the intersection of hardlines & softlines
where the world comes to know itself?
let's stitch these stitches quick
before you get an itch & quit
you're beyond description
you're an addiction / intuition
in this snow you glow
though we both know
the only answer is no.
the hot tub
// march 2018
We used to go to Sophia’s hot tub to tell our truths. The hot tub was a curious thing: we’d pull off the heavy foam topper, and underneath the water would already be steaming by some magic ((or science, probably)). We only ever used the hot tub that winter, and we only used it after two a.m.. Before those nights became memories, we spent unhealthily long hours soaking ourselves in the safe haven of the boiling liquid, basking in the eighty-degree contrast between our heads & bodies. Our skin would sizzle as we slipped into the water and took seats in our respective four corners, examining each other’s faces precisamente, as if we’d never see them again.
Sophia always had something to say. Her eyes would open wide as she set down her drink, mouth moving rapid fire with some string of names and places and acts that I didn’t know / want to know. ¿Did you hear what happened to Kevin? she’d ask, and we’d only have to shake our heads a fraction of an inch before she’d let us know exactly what had happened to Kevin. Sophia was good like that; she could break the proverbial ice like no other. But, sparkler as she was, she’d eventually fizzle out of hot gossip and look to the three of us to fill the three a.m. cricket-chirping silence. Entonces, our second talker would begin asking questions.
We didn’t like to answer Jenny’s harkness-discussion-esque questions. They were too real / too scary / too relevant. ¿What’s your biggest fear? she’d say, calm like she was simplemente asking our favorite ice cream flavor. ¿What do you think happens after we die? ¿What’s something you’ve never told anyone? ¿Do our lives matter? ¿Hay un dios? During the light of day, I wouldn’t answer her questions—I always avoided difficult topics with sarcasm—but there was something about the smell of the night and the warmth of the water that made my mind a little looser, so after a beat of silence, I’d speak up. I’m afraid of people, I whispered one night as the chilly breeze shifted my braid and I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I’m afraid of preconceived notions / unwarranted emotions / violent motions. I’m afraid of showing up where no one wants me. ((I’m afraid of growing up)).
We never captured those moments with photographs, and it’s better that we didn’t, because the photos would have shown four raisin-fingered girls soaking beneath the moon, but never could have shown the air so full of ________. I remember listening to the others contemplate love / fear / life / death / god / & those in-between moments of fraud. I remember trying to understand everyone’s puntos de vista. I remember repeating a single word, my tongue numb as I tried to reconcile English with my steam of consciousness, repeating vulnerability with emphasis on each syllable separately, as if the meaning would somehow change, my own little tongue twister as the others waited.
When I tell a story ((a personal story)) I can’t make eye contact. I remember I said, I have a funny story to tell, and looked straight down into the water. The story wasn’t funny. My voice cracked as I tried to boil years of confusion / delusion into the tale of a triangular necklace lost down a drain, trying to reach a point where I could squeak out the punchline (___ ___) without scaring them. I remember after I choked out the cursed words, I dove into the water, submerging my head so I didn’t have to witness their reactions. I remember I would’ve stayed there por siempre if she hadn’t pulled me out. Why’d you do that, she whispered, ¿Why’d you go down there? Now your hair’s gonna freeze, dumbass. I remember wiping the chlorine out of my eyes, glancing up at Sophia & Jenny. They were laughing, in a good way, shaking their heads like I was silly for expecting them to think differently of me. I remember the slight exhale / quarter smile I managed as I felt my hair start to freeze, piece by piece, my own mini-icicle catastrophe.
We liked to swirl normalcy in the water like fabric softener, hoping to soak it up sometime in early hours of the morning, but we never did. We were misfits, all of us, even socialite Sophia & socially-just Jenny. We were all forced to lie / to pretend / to grow up too young. Our stories were different, our bodies were different, our likes and loves and hates and everythings so different— but we were us and nothing ((but the sunrise)) could end our eternal moment in the water when everyone but us lay still and we told our truths.
reflection on gender
// april 2019
“What can I get for you, sir?” I pause for half a second. “Just spinach please”. As soon as she hears my voice, the Subway worker begins apologizing profusely. “I’m so sorry ma’am! I thought you— I didn’t see your face.” She expects me to be offended by the misgendering. Instead, I’m smiling. She’s proven the truth behind Butler’s theory of gender performativity. I’m wearing an oversized men’s t-shirt (featuring a painting of Jesus on the cross), no makeup, my hair is up, and I’m accompanied by two heterosexual men. Everything except my earrings reads as “male”.
Hearing my laughter, the next Subway worker chips in to make fun of his coworker: “You thought this beautiful woman was a man? Look at you! I can’t tell what’s going on with you under that visor. You could be a man too!”
Leaving this interaction, I think about a few things:
1. The immediate recognition that misgendering qualifies as an insult.
The expectation of my taking offense to being called “sir” and the follow-up joke about her “looking like a man” both imply a certain level of discomfort with being identified as an incorrect gender. If this is common sense, recognized by students and Subway workers alike, then where does the disconnect occur that prevents people from empathizing with the discomfort that trans people feel when misgendered?
2. If I were trans, how would this conversation affect me differently?
I do not identify as male, or as trans, but if I did, this interaction would certainly be frustrating. To first be gendered correctly, and then misgendered because I did not pass would be incredibly disheartening, not to mention uncomfortable. I think about what I would change if I did identify as male. I’d cut my hair, wear a binder, and make a distinct effort to pass as male, but not much else would change until I started T. So much of how I present myself on a daily basis is already considered “masculine”— from my clothes to how I sit to who I spend time with— I am not surprised that I am sometimes misgendered.
Where, I wonder, is the line I would have to cross in my gender expression for the Subway workers to not correct themselves after calling me “sir”? I think about what Halberstam would have to say about that line. If transgenderness for the individual rests upon some combination of body dysphoria and identification as trans, how can we make sure our gender expression consistently translates to correct gendering by the general public? Is it worth our time to dwell on such questions when our solution, as always, is education and respect? Does such a line even exist, when gender, as understood by the general public, must be deconstructed for any progress to be made?
I worry that my contemplation of “if I were trans” somehow appropriates the trans experience. Am I simply mapping my queerness over gender in an effort to understand something that I will never truly have the capacity to understand without body dysphoria? I think what I am trying to do is queer the cisgender experience just enough to be able to effectively identify with the struggle of trans friends. But I pause there, wondering if it is transphobic to even suggest “queering the cisgender experience” as a mode of empathy, and maybe I should stay in my lane.
3. I wish English had an “usted”.
What utility do the terms “sir” and “ma’am” provide, and can we replace them with some gender neutral term to denote respect? In the Subway line, “sir” and “ma’am” are used to get the attention of each customer in a respectful manner. I have never used “sir” or “ma’am” in my life, not even when I was a cashier at Target— instead, I addressed each customer with a friendly “Hi! How are you?”, leaving off any assignment of gender. However, this can be interpreted as disrespectful and I can only conclude that the English language should have a formal gender neutral term like the Spanish “usted”. My main issue with “sir” and “ma’am” is the barrage of assignments that come with their use. When I am assigned “sir”, I feel a definite sense of wrongness associated with its proximity to “mister”, a label which I absolutely do not identify with. Interestingly, I do not feel this same wrongness when referred to as “dude”, “bro”, or “man” in conversation with peers. The gender-neutrality of these terms seems to stem from their informality, as opposed to the importance “sir” implies. Thus, my aversion to “sir” must be more a response to its formality than its gender.
With “ma’am”, I feel almost equally uncomfortable. As a contraction of “madam”, “ma’am” assigns not only womanhood but also motherhood to its subject. Unsure if this was just my impression to the term, I asked a friend how she feels when she’s called “ma’am”. Her response: “I feel like somebody’s mother”. In contrast to the professionalism associated with “sir”, the domesticity we align with “ma’am” speaks volumes to the heteronormative timeline instilled into us in our youth. Other “female” terms I feel somewhat uncomfortable with include “girls” and “chicks” while I am somewhat neutral on “ladies” and find it hilarious when my female friends and I refer to each other as “b*tches”, “sluts”, and “wh*res”. What is it about “let’s go girls!” that feels demeaning, while “come on, b*tches” feels powerful? Clearly, there has been some reclamation of misogynistic terms, but somehow simultaneously a disconnect from seemingly descriptive feminine language.
After unpacking this interaction and the implications of misgendering, I find myself more aware of my discomfort with gendered language, despite identifying as a cisgender female. The implied structure of heteronormativity that comes with the use of “sir” and “ma’am”, among other labels, leads me to wish for an entirely gender-neutral language and society. In assigning these labels to ourselves and each other, we nullify opportunity for fluidity of gender expression, and invalidate the experience of anyone who does not fully align with either “male” or “female”. Although I did not love being misgendered as “sir”, my almost equal discomfort with “ma’am” leads me to question not my gender identity, but the rigidity of language as an indication of respect.
As I lose track of gender in my own life, I begin to notice it more in others. On the first day of Poetry 1, Paul walked confidently around our desks in high heeled boots, handing out the syllabus which at the end read simply “don’t be #extra or #messy” and I knew I was going to love the class. When we did introductions, Paul said “I use they/them or she/her pronouns” and we all nodded and moved on with our lives. It was time to talk about poetry.
I soon found out that Paul is a bit of a legend in the poetry community. After mentioning their name to people who know more than I do about poetry, one friend texted me “your professor is PAUL TRAN? are you kidding me? I’m transferring.” I also noticed Paul’s poems on the online literary magazine I work for and realized this was an opportunity to learn from someone who had made a name for themselves in the literary world. More than that, I was able to look up to Paul for their authenticity.
Reich wrote that “genderf*ck” reveals the faults of gender as a construct, and everything about Paul’s gender expression does just that. Every time we had class, Paul never attempted to perform “male” or “female”, but rather floated somewhere in between— I wouldn’t even call their style “androgynous”, it was simply Paul. Over the course of the semester, my respect for Paul only grew as I considered the courage that went into each of their outfits, and the confidence with which they held themself. They were truly f*cking with gender, and I was in awe.
As Paul disregarded the constructed boundaries between “femininity” and “masculinity” in the classroom, I began to notice other students’ attention to Paul’s preferred pronouns. While no one purposefully misgendered them, certain students seemed to have difficulty wrapping their heads around the idea that someone could be neither male nor female. I observed a trend of male students misgendering Paul, and female students correcting them. Towards the end of the semester, this became less common, but we all seemed to alter our speech patterns, adopting the strategy Maggie Nelson calls “pronoun avoidance” when she writes about Harry: “the key is training your ear not to mind hearing a person’s name over and over again… you must learn to tolerate an instance beyond the Two.”
My friend and I would walk from Paul’s class to the engineering building saying things like “I hope Paul likes my poem”, “It was so funny when Paul said that”, and “I wonder what Paul thinks of us”. In an effort to avoid misgendering them, we avoided pronouns altogether. This strategy, to me, feels shameful. Why were we not comfortable enough to use their pronouns in our grammar like we would with a cisgender professor? We had no intention of disrespecting Paul, but by treating them differently in our language it was as if we implicitly categorized them as “other”. Does our shift in wording make us transphobic, despite good intentions?
While I disagree with Nelson’s use of the word “tolerate” to describe her relationship with gender neutral pronouns (and people?) I think students in my poetry class may have had a similar unfamiliarity with gender fluidity. Even within the sphere of our liberal university, the concepts of queerness and genderqueerness are “tolerated” but not necessarily understood to the extent that queer theorists and activists would hope. On Tuesdays and Thursdays when I walked from Queer Theory to Poetry, the disconnect between academia and reality was exposed in the difference in language used by my peers in each setting.
As the correlation between education on queer issues and respect for queer identities became apparent, I wondered how that gap could be bridged if we continue to self-select into classes like Queer Theory. The inaccessibility of these readings worries me, but I also have faith in those who are educated in their ability and drive to educate others.
my favorite record
// september 2019
The record’s packaging measures one foot by one foot by a quarter inch. Its glossy orange exterior is smudged yet still functional, protecting the contents within its cardboard walls. The fragile square has worn corners, and the discs slide out with ease when the box is opened. There are two discs, nearly identical, save for the track names on their center. The records are thin, black circles with grooves on both sides, so the only way to handle them is to carefully hold the edges. When held in the air, the sun exposes the light orange words on the center of the dust-coated record: Frank Ocean channel O R A N G E. The edges of the discs are smudged with fingerprints, but the inner area remains reflective.
I flip the disc to side D and carefully place the needle on its outermost groove. The record begins spinning, releasing crackles of sound into my apartment, as if I’ve just lit a wood fire. My body flinches, anticipating the beginning of the song— goosebumps raise on my arms as the first note hits the air. The melody slowly builds, one note at a time, until Frank’s soft voice reaches the space where nothing was. “Taxi driver / be my shrink for the hour / leave the meter running / its rush hour”. When I play the song in my car, I scream the lyrics, but not here. On vinyl, every sound rising from the disc feels different— more visceral. Like the words are inside me but I can’t force them out, my throat closing with something close to tears, but not quite. Frank’s voice breaks on the titular lyrics, “Its a Bad Religion” but my heart breaks on the following line, “This unrequited love”. I’m transported back to a summer full of long car rides, the empty highway stretching before us, the soft laugh of the person who introduced me to the album. I wish I’d had the courage to take one hand off the wheel to hold hers. My eyes close as Frank whisper-sings “I can never make him love me / love me / love me / love”, the syllables falling apart as they flow into my room until his final utterance of “love” is little more than a gasp.
a dinner table, a sandstorm, & a computer
// april 2017
Plain and round, our dinner table has room for six, but nowadays only seats two or three. Before my brother moved out, he and I, along with our parents, would eat and discuss whatever happened that day or other topics that came to mind.
Most discussion was of the medical nature, seeing as my parents are doctors and my brother believes he has every disease they mention. Typical conversation would start with my mother advising us against cancer-causing activities, immediately followed by my brother asking if he had skin cancer because he forgot to put on sunscreen, me interjecting that I'd plan his funeral for him, and my dad saying something like "today I saw a man who got rabies from trying to skin a fox he found on the side of the road".
The dinner table is one of the only places I feel comfortable asking important questions that may have conflicting answers. Earlier this year, I brought to the table a question from a school-wide survey sent out by Mr Q. The survey should have been straightforward, but when I reached the last question and was presented with a blank box rather than bubbles to choose from, I had a bit of an existential crisis. The question read: "how do you identify yourself racially/ethnically?"
I remember staring at that box for an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out what to write. I wasn't about to type out my entire family background, but I couldn't bring myself to pull an Obama and restrict my identity to a single label. Eventually, I typed in "not white" and apathetically hit submit, assuming that the reasoning behind the question was to separate minorities. In retrospect, I realize that my answer was first, only half true, and second, probably not at all helpful in creating a sound data set, so I apologize, Mr Q., for undermining what was presumably a well-meant survey. When I brought the question to my dinner table, my mother responded simply, saying: "when people ask 'what are you,' just tell them you're American. Or better yet, human."
Her answer quelled my irritation, but I still wasn't completely satisfied with identifying myself as just "human," because that brought up an even bigger question: what does it mean to be human?
For some reason, that huge all-encompassing question brings me back, about ten years, to a sandstorm. (This story might be a dream, or I might have just made it up, but it feels like a memory so I am going to talk about it anyway). We were in a National Park, Arches maybe, when the storm hit. I don't remember all the details of what we were doing, but I do remember the pain of the sand whipping across every surface and lodging itself in my ears, eyes, and mouth. With all our senses impaired, my family and I could only communicate by grabbing hold of one another and trying to run back to where we had parked our car. In the confusion of the moment, I remember another family appearing. Their body language mirrored ours, urgent and huddled together, and seeing them I realized the reality of human nature.
The objective of the families was not to win some unspoken competition, but to collectively protect human life. Blinded by the sand, we joined forces, recognizing the shared desire to make it home safely rather than superficial differences that are so often the first to be noticed. I can't remember the race, class, sexual orientation, or religion of the family, because the tiny rocks hitting us at high speeds made such things irrelevant. What mattered was only that we were united by a single goal, and because we did not pause to compare ourselves, both parties successfully emerged from the storm. This unity, I realized, proved more important than any arbitrary label we could have placed on each other in the midst of the sand. Our truest human nature shone through in our instinct to join together. In that moment, I understood an inkling of what it means to be human.
Although it doesn't make sense at first, my contemplation of human nature always connects to my love of computers. If you've ever taken a computer science class with Mr Minster, you'll know that everything is an abstraction; more specifically, everything a computer does is an abstraction of zeros and ones. By this, I mean that programming languages are just manipulations of binary which solve more difficult problems in more efficient ways. Earlier this year, one of my favorite authors, Junot Diaz, told us at the Paramount: "you can take all the engineering and computer classes you want, but only the humanities teach you how to be human." I immediately wrote this down because although I greatly admire Diaz and his work, I disagree with the statement. I believe that computer classes can teach you how to be human, not through zeros and ones, but rather by highlighting the contrast between human emotion and computation.
Computers, no matter how smart, can never be truly human. Although I understand that they are just pieces of metal, the complexity of computers still intimidates me. I often find myself questioning my place in a world where computers are smarter, faster, and generally better than I am. How can I make an impact on society if somewhere there's a machine that knows infinitely more information than I ever could? What can I do to differentiate myself from my binary counterparts? Does my identity even matter?
I don't yet know the answers to these questions. Honestly, I don't know the answers to most questions. I still don't even know the answer to the question in Mr Q's survey about my identity. However, I have learned, from dinner table conversations, sandstorms, and computers, what it means to me to be human. Today, I want to share my definition of humanity so you can go forth into the world and find your own.
Humanity cannot be defined in a series of zeros and ones. Humanity is the drop in your stomach when you hear your grandmother is in the hospital. It's the emptiness in the house when your brother goes off to college. It's shy smiles between strangers and crazy car rides with friends. It's the fear of speaking in class and the relief of someone laughing at your joke. It's your leg shaking when getting a test back and deep breath before jumping in the deep end. It's working together to solve problems and sitting in a circle to give affirmations. It's asking yourself the difficult questions and having conversations with the people who matter. Humanity is opening your eyes in a sandstorm and seeing that we're all the same.
from that to this
// may 2017
Today is my eighteenth birthday. Today I cross the threshold from young person to real person. From useless to useful. From nothing to something. From that to this.
Knowing where I'll be next year hurts. At first it was a relief. The process complete, the choice made. Finally, finally finished. But then, a slow ache spread across my chest and I don't know what I'm doing anymore. St. Louis is seven hundred seventy eight miles from Charlottesville. From this place I call home, these people I call family, this life I live. From this to that costs two plane tickets that no one is going to buy, a connection in Atlanta or Chicago that no one wants to make, and more than a few hours in a Delta or United aircraft that no one wants to endure.
I was eight when I broke my arm. I was eighteen when I broke away. Away, away, away. Away from home, the familiar, the familia. Away from everything I've ever known, for the hope of something better. I feel like an immigrant. If April flowers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring? Pilgrims.
I'm not a Pilgrim, though, because this is not a pilgrimage. I'm not moving in search of a higher power, or looking for something sacred. I'm just taking the necessary steps to further my education. Or am I? Some part of me is moving to escape. Isn't there a thing called "escapism"? Let me look it up real quick. Okay, here we go, escapism: the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy; wishful thinking. Wishful thinking... that's not quite what I'm doing. It's more like Wishful Action Taking. Wishful Moving to Middle America.
Where do we draw the line between childhood and adulthood anyway? Is it when you start doing things and going places on your own, or when you start living on your own? Either way, the phrase on your own requires interpretation. On my own what? Time? Money? The Spanish translation of on your own is por su cuenta, in which por means through and cuenta translates to check or account, which points to the answer being money. However, I frequently confuse cuenta with cuento, the word for story. So, in my reading of the phrase, on your own really means through your own story.
Thus, I can conclude that "adulthood" is just a way of saying "telling your own story". I'm a big fan of storytelling, so adulthood should be easy for me, right? I can tell stories all day long. My own stories, other people's stories... I collect them, I share them, I live for them. Stories give people meaning, memories, melodies. What else do we have if not stories?
I'm anxious to tell my own story. To live my own story. Away, away, away, from here. Phone call distance, not walking distance. Elsewhere. Stories have twists and turns, por supuesto. I want to experience those soft-serve ice creams twisting around each other and eventually melting into one consistent flavor. Do you remember when we didn't have a Cold Stone here and the closest one was in Short Pump? We thought Cold Stone was the epitome of all ice creams, the final frontier of flavor, the closest thing to the nectar of the gods. If you had to drive an hour for it, it must be spectacular. Then they put a minuscule version of our Short Pump Cold Stone heaven on 29, next to Popeye's, next to KFC, next to Raising Cane's. A disappointing replica of our childhood Mecca, squeezed between manufactured pieces of fried chicken.
Growing up is a little bit like realizing Cold Stone Creamery isn't ambrosia. Like realizing just because something is new and different doesn't mean it's better than what you already have. I have a lot, right here, right now. I'm acutely aware of my privilege surrounding me on all sides. One of my teammates noted the other day that I dislike compliments. This is false. I love the idea of compliments, the act of praising one another, but I dislike unwarranted compliments. I don't think I deserve a compliment if I haven't done anything. Why should I receive praise for nothing? This conflict stems, I think, from my concept of privilege. Why should I have more opportunity than another girl my age when I have done nothing to deserve it? How can I reconcile myself with my privilege while continuing to bear the benefits? These are the questions that haunt me the most as I journey into my adult life.
I like to joke that my life is a joke. It really isn't; most of the things that happen to me are perfectly normal. I wake, I eat, I think, I read, I write, I sit, I run, I talk, I drive, I laugh, I sleep. There are in between moments too: soft handholds, silent tears, brief hugs. My favorite moment comes after stillness. After immersing myself in the world, all but asleep, still as I can be without holding my breath. Only after reaching this purest state do I begin to move again, just my fingertips, regaining control of my body as the universe collapses onto the pads of my fingers. Only then do I feel life, feel its beauty, its meaning, without hustle or bustle, just tingling movement through the joints of my dedos.
a family of four
// march 2017
I've been told I was born on May 4, 1999 at the University of Virginia. I don't know more details than that because, frankly, I've never asked. Thankfully, I was healthy, so my parents brought me home to the house where I spent my first eight or so years.
I remember trying to balance on a wooden beam in the driveway. I remember requesting to be carried piggyback up mountains. I remember playing with video cameras and legos and remote controlled vehicles. I remember envying the neighbors' trampoline, puppy, and antique car. I remember wearing dresses and sunscreen and casts. I remember receiving hugs and timeouts and hand-me-downs. I remember making brownies and forts and promises. I remember starting businesses and fires and fights. I remember training wheels and christmas trees and toothless smiles.
A wonderful hodgepodge of cultures, my family's origins are difficult to explain, but I'll try my best. My mom was born in the large city of Bangalore, India, which I'm told is now called Bangaluru. When she was five, her parents and older twin sisters moved to the US, leaving her in India with other family members for two years. Soon after she turned seven, she arrived in Ohio, where she lived for the next twenty or so years.
My mother is truly an example of the American dream. She entered the country without even knowing English, and within twenty years, proceeded to excel in school, attend a local public university, and become a hematologist-oncologist. She's like my very own Alexander Hamilton.
My father is not an immigrant. He was born and raised in the good ol' swamp of Chesapeake Virginia. Contrary to popular belief, my Dad is white. His mother's background is German and Scottish, and his father is Iranian, hence the unpronounceable surname. My father's childhood was typically American, filled with sports matches and swimming pools and computer games. After graduating high school, he studied medicine in Miami and then moved to Pittsburgh and met my mother. I've heard the story told multiple ways, but my favorite version is that my Dad asked out my Mom even though she had a boyfriend. I don't really understand what happened in between, but as the mid-nineties turned into the late nineties, my biracial family began.
My brother was born after my parents were married for two years, and I was born eighteen months later. My relationship with him has fluctuated over the years as any siblings' does, going from mortal enemies to grudging acquaintances to awkward companions to close friends. He has our father's disorganization and procrastination, mixed with our mother's kindheartedness and appreciation for others. I got all the opposite traits: my father's sense of humor and straightforwardness, my mother's punctuality and professionalism. As a family, we all balance each other out.
// february 2017
Love is a message arriving
so we keep surviving,
love is thinking in a storm
and drinking something warm,
love is a sleeping bag
and a weeping flag,
love is a fall breeze
saying yes please,
love is a baseball cap
and a traced-on map,
love is exchanged names
and deranged games.
Love is pelted chapsticks
and belted rap lyrics,
love is a burger and fries
in a burglar disguise,
love is chained wrists
writing unexplained lists,
love is the spine of a book
and lets just take look,
love is four coupon codes
using for loops on nodes.
Love is a misused badminton racket
and a brand new denim jacket,
love is an early morning meeting
trying to slow my bleeding,
love is a snapchat streak
and a mark on your cheek,
love is the bright flashing
of the brake-light smashing,
love is a fellowship
and a marshmallow grip.
Love is hanging christmas lights
and counting down the nights,
love is a two-fingered salute
inside a new spacesuit,
love is a baltimore smolder
and a head on your shoulder,
love is a brick wall
and a quick crawl,
love is the city's blindspot
in a harris teeter parking lot.
Love is shattered screens
left in battered jeans,
love is proposed quotes
and closed throats,
love is fighting over rice
and hungover advice,
love is a beanbag chair
and broken software,
love is never ending nose goes
and condescending elbows.
Love is a cup of ice cream
in tonight's unfinished dream,
love is a cover from rain
when smothered in pain,
love is sick dogs
and lost epilogues,
love is a genetic mistake
in a phonetic milkshake,
love is homemade guilt
in our frayed quilt.
Love is a family sized box of cheez-its
now sun dried and squeezed to bits,
love is two angry words
that flew out like birds,
love is writing rhymes
and confessing crimes,
love is a popcorn kernel
stuck in my journal,
love is planning a mission to mars
and writing our names in the stars,
love is your eyes on mine
waiting for our lives to align.
Love is knuckles on a wooden bench
cracking to a song in french,
love is handwritten notes
hidden in mittens and coats,
love is a forkful of sauerkraut
and a truthful coming out,
love is a pizza crust
and gaining your trust,
love is shared headphones
wrapped though our dead bones,
love is the absence of feet
and cents in the backseat.
Love is making plans
and holding hands,
love is worn-in shoes
hiding an old bruise,
love is asking how are you
when no answers are true,
love is a speed-skating car ride
without contemplating suicide,
love is pulling memories up by the roots
and replanting their truths with fruits,
love is oceans apart
wanting a fresh start,
love is the same story
love is love is love
is love is love.
Love is today and tomorrow
a driveway of sorrow,
love is the sun and the moon
and the one in my room,
love is peas in a pod
with no prayers to god,
love is laughter
love is a joke
written in smoke,
love is a question
love is truths locked away
and begging you to stay,
love is a what if
echoing down this cliff,
love is a quiet
you should try it.