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Detritus: Physical Attributes of Queens, etc.

This is the time of year and violent quality of weather which brings a sidewalk death to baby birds. I see them everywhere, in agonized jags underfoot. It adds a certain horror to the city’s usual sidewalk litter.

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I think I wrote something recently about the New York tendency not to consider anything beyond a three-block neighborhood of your dwelling “your neighborhood.” Mostly this is an imagined boundary. But Roger and I were out walking tonight in Sunnyside and we found the end of the universe, the beginning of the Nothing, the place where you expect to see the giant bats and the warping of the fabric of space. It’s 39th Avenue, I think.

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Today I went to the open house at Teacher’s College. (I did mention I’m going to Columbia, right?) Lots of excitement over it, but the two things I want to talk about (in the Eqbal Ahmad sense) are thusly:

Remembering my first day of Hampshire — and to some extent other beginnings in my life — while sitting in the balcony during the TC administration’s welcome was something. Even though I’m not sure yet whether this degree is what I want to pursue, I feel like I’ve made a much more clear-headed, better-informed decision this time around. From this vantage point I feel like I wasn’t even a sentient being when I applied to Hampshire. I went there for all the wrong reasons, most of them social. I came in with so many doubts and expectations of the place and myself. I remember being all pumped up about being one of the smartest students there, which was completely ridiculous on Hampshire’s terms even if it wasn’t yet unimportant on my own. It was very important to me that I prove myself. I don’t even know on what terms, except that I guess I wanted to be recognized as a writer. Published in the New Yorker, maybe, because that’s what you do when you’re the best writer. Aside from that, all I really wanted was for my teachers to praise me, as they always had, because that’s who I was: no more than the sum of my teachers’ praise. I wanted fellow students worthy of my love — not just a small group, the whole batch.

(The professors frequently offered praise as a reward for no effort at all, and resistance in places that baffled me (why did the child development professor refuse to let me write an assignment where we were supposed to do a drawing? why wouldn’t Michael Lesy comment on my essay’s stylistics?). While more of the students were interesting than my high school classmates, my circle remained as limited as it had been.)

This time, I have it thought out. I have a few ridiculous aspirations which will probably fall by the wayside — mostly about the total overhaul of the world’s educational systems — but I also have a list of practical skills I want to develop along the way. I know why I’m going to school: I want a multidisciplinary environment, and I wants me my praxis. And I want the three doctoral letters tacked onto my name, because I’m tired of being pushed around on the job.

As I wrote “GUS” in bigger letters than the rest of my name on my nametag today I remembered how the teachers at Hampshire gleefully grabbed onto that name and used it vigorously, resisting Gillian in what seemed like a sense that turnabout on the first-name-basis of the college was fair play. I had a dim awareness, as I spelled the three letters out again, that I was making a choice I hadn’t thought to consider. It wasn’t until I got to campus this time that I thought about how I was presenting myself. My debut on the Hampshire campus was so thought-out that I can still remember what I wore that day: it was fetching, but not like something anyone else would wear. I feel blessed that I’ve made it to the stage where I’m spending more time sussing out my new bunkmates than I am considering how I want to come off.

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Certain displays of weakness in men, I can handle. Others I find so terrifying as to want to avoid those who exhibit them. I am still figuring out which, by trial and error.

One Comment

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    Thursday, November 9, 2006 at 3:14 am | Permalink

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