Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl – Age 23
political (p-lt-kl) – of or relating to your views about social relationships involving authority or power
The act of naming is political; that is, how we choose to call things, ideas, and people is a reflection of how we perceive ourselves in relation to them–either they are smaller than or bigger than, more or less important than, us.
It’s like capitalizing or lower-casing. The capitalization of the word “I” indicates a hierarchy–that the human is more important than the objects or ideas around it; it represents the very egocentric view that humans, according to Freud (I think it was Freud), tend to have.
I realize now that I have often had a hard time naming myself, understanding or identifying my power or lack therof in relationship to the world around me. Aunt Sarah called it modesty. I called it shyness. I worried often that it was a sign of waning confidence. These days, I think of it as deference to the wisdom of the Universe.
“Hi, I’m darlene…and I’m a writer.”
There we were in the basement of the Cosby Center reading aloud chapters from our autobiographies. Dr. Gayles commented on the aspects our stories shared with the other women writers’ autobiographies we were studying. She began to list the similarities and among them was the idea of being writers–recorders of human experience. Somewhere around there, I suppose, our faces recorded that we didn’t think of ourselves as–gasp–writers. She looked at us stunned–Dr. Gayles had a flair for drama. In her raspy voice, “Who among you does not consider herself a writer?” No one dared raise a hand; the tone she used told us we bet’ not. “Each one of you must claim this today. Phira,” she pointed to the first girl in the circle of desks seated to her left, “say it!”
Phira grinned and sort of mumbled, “I am a writer.”
She made Phira and some of the others, maybe Heather but likely not headstrong and dynamic SGA officer Saptosa, repeat themselves with more verve. By the time my turn came, I did the best I could:
I am a writer.
I have written from almost as far back as I can remember being able to hold a writing tool. But at no time until that moment, on my way to a graduate writing program in three months no less, did I ever consider myself A Writer. I’m not sure why naming myself as one was so daunting. What did I think happened once you claimed the title? What qualifications was I lacking?
The Writer as Unicorn
“So what’s next?”
I told my uncle of my plans to go to graduate school; he nodded approvingly.
The chatter was at fever pitch–people full off turkey and the fixings and all the fellowship that is Thanksgiving. But all seemed to go silent when I told him what field I was pursuing.
“Writing? Like for Essence; journalism?”
“No, creative writing like books. I’m a poet.”
His raised eyebrows said all he didn’t really need to say but he added anyway, an incredulous “Oh, ok.”
These days I wonder if I simply heard what I wanted; saw what suited my expectation.
Writers are like unicorns to most people–mythic creatures that get the side-eye from people who wonder, in a world where power is often in the possession of those with cash and credentials to back it up, how one is so named.
Writers rarely get rich from writing and there’s no degree that makes you one–both of which my uncle recognized. He has always valued education and what it affords. His side eye was really a concerned eye–what will become of her now that she’s made this choice to be so named?
What you call me?!
There are three places that runners can consistently go to use the bathroom, get a drink, or take a rest without being considered loiterers: Starbucks, hospitals, and libraries.
It was still dark outside as my partner and I approached the locked doors of the main lobby. The receptionist spoke through the callbox that she was releasing the doors. I grabbed a seat on the couch while my partner went to the bathroom, put my head in my hands, and waited. I heard footsteps. Security. Before I could defend my presence, “Oh, I was just about to direct you to emergency, but I see you’re a runner. Enjoy your run!”
A runner? Me?
I had never named myself a runner. And suddenly I had to think about the benefits (and side-eyes) the new title afforded. Access to a locked building for instance. Access to neighborhoods where in any other attire, my presence would be suspect. The side eye that at 5:30 a.m. I’m climbing Riverside Drive with the deer. All in a name.