Monthly Archives: January 2011

My Life has…Purpose?

So a few of the research opportunities to which I’m applying call for Statements of Purpose as part of their applications. When I learned that I started freaking out, like I’m 20 years old (for a few more hours), I’m just a student who wants to keep being a student–you want my life to fit together into some sort of a cohesive narrative about why grad school is right for me and I don’t think that’s going to happen yet (ever?). I was scared I was going to have to bullshit the whole thing and I wasn’t going to get in because this was going to be a piece of crap, and I was scared of how I was going to un-piece-of-crap-ify it by the time legit applications roll around. 

And then I started writing, and shocked myself. It…works. I didn’t have to BS any of it, because once I got going, I realized there were signs and there are reasons why I want to do what I want to do and as much as I wouldn’t have believed it a few days ago, there is a purpose to all of this. I’ve never thought about my life as something purposeful before. It’s…interesting, to say the least. I won’t call it fate, I might call it destiny, because I think it’s more than coincidence….It’s weird how we’re writing stories that have follow-able plots without even being aware that we’re holding pens. I always say that I want to be a professor because really, what else would I do? Nothing hopefully seems a lot more obvious after you read this:

Then entirely confident in my future as an English major, I enrolled in my first Sociology course on a whim, but quickly became enamored with the discipline and the change in perspective developing a “sociological imagination” entailed. A particularly interesting reading in that first class inspired me to take Families later, and in retrospect, I think I knew that introduction to the field had changed my life plan even before I enrolled in Inequality: Class, Race, and Gender instead of the last prerequisite to declare English. That course, in addition to introducing me to the truly interdisciplinary nature of Sociology, presented me with my first experience with original sociological research, in the form of a group project surrounding social stratification found in the most common fields Princetonians enter after graduation. From the earliest stages of that project, it became clear that I devoted myself more entirely to the research than my fellow group members, printing piles of articles and enjoying the process of enveloping myself in the structural faults of the nonprofit sector—my English-heavy close-reading background translated into research suiting me well. Recognizing this love for research prompted me to realize that my friend’s half-joke that she could see me as a professor held some weight; a tutor throughout middle- and high schools, and the friend who is ever-ready to enlighten others with some nugget of knowledge, teaching comes naturally to me, and despite having always been an avid writer, I had very recently realized that writing scholarly works might come just as naturally. These combined realizations led me to apply for, and thankfully be awarded, recognition as a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow, a feat which I hope, like this research opportunity, will enhance my chances of acceptance into a prestigious PhD program in Sociology.
Though my group didn’t have full freedom to choose a research topic for that assignment in Inequality: Class, Race, and Gender, the choices presented to us demonstrated something integral to my love of sociological research—the ease with which a topic of general interest to me could become an academic project.  From that point on, whenever I read an article or had a discussion with a friend about some social issue, I began to wonder how I could study it and come to some sort of informed conclusion; my junior independent work this year grew out of the same process. Almost since enrolling in college, my friends at other institutions and I had often debated the benefits of going to our respective schools over others, and after reading an article in the New York Times about college’s effect on students, I realized that I could turn this debate into a substantive research endeavor. Under the guidance of a graduate student, Alex Davis, and my advisor Professor Rebekah Massengill, I developed an interesting research question and constructed a thorough questionnaire and extensive list of variables on which to compare institutions; this pair has proven instrumental to my research as I can further develop ideas through conversations with them, as well as approach them with questions about survey design, data collection, or even use of STATA for data analysis. At different stages in my research process, each of these mentors jokingly informed me that I was working too hard for a junior project, reflecting again the fact that I take naturally to research and truly enjoy it more than most.
Befriending and having intellectual discussions with persons from a wide range of racial, economic, cultural, religious, national, and regional origins throughout my time at Princeton has engaged me academically with the often-overlooked intricacies of identity politics. Additionally, my current research topic has shown me that, at this stage of life at least, higher education and the changes to individual identity it prompts fascinate me—I hope to study another aspect of this topic in my Senior Thesis next year. The Sociology courses I have taken so far, in conjunction with my overall college experiences and the people I have come to know during my time here, have inspired me to seek to understand the gray areas of social life and society, most clearly in the areas of individual identity, both in terms of culturally significant identities that are not traditionally studied (such as identifying as an adult), and the complications that can arise from various conflicts and convergences amongst traditional identity markers. In my current research project, in which I ask whether one type of institution better facilitates its students’ transitions to adulthood than does another, I hope to broaden the expanse of knowledge regarding the effects of higher education on young Americans by drawing attention to and filling an overlooked gap in the literature, effectively demonstrating that “higher education” as a topic of study contains its own gray areas and points of heterogeneity that warrant further study. I plan to continue to conduct research in this manner in the future, by delving deep enough into areas of interest to me that I find yet-unexplored layers to be probed and analyzed. As truly strange as my friends and classmates may find this, I find exhilaration in being surrounded by books and articles, reading and highlighting, trying to find my way to a research question—in the simplest of terms, I love research, and would relish the chance to make a career of it. A winding road comprised of specific courses, professors, and graduate students led me to pursue a degree—and hopefully, a career—in Sociology; without these individuals and their work, I may have gone on to criticize contemporary novels and lived blissfully unaware of the ways in which I could add to the knowledge of the world, and I cannot bypass the opportunity to affect others in the same way by continuing on to graduate school and, eventually, professorship. A multi-tasker by nature, I aspire towards a dual career in professorship and administration, so that I may ensure the incorporation of diverse ideas and teachings into curricula and academic atmospheres.

Black + White = Black?*

TV presented me with something interesting today. That doesn’t usually happen, and it certainly doesn’t usually happen on two back-to-back entirely unrelated television shows. So I was waiting for House to come on, right? And I was watching Wheel of Fortune to bide my time (I’m a BEAST at Wheel). And a black woman beat her opponents by a landslide in the end, including trips to both Hawaii and Alaska (woot woot!), and when Pat asked her who was in the audience with her today, she said her mom. The camera pans over to where her mom is sitting, so she can wave, and Pat sounds…confused for a moment until he realizes that her mom is the white woman waving at the camera, and says, “Oh, there she is!” sounding totally and completely surprised. And I can’t even yell at him for being surprised, because I totally was too. 
Then House came on. We could tell by the previews for this week’s episode that something interesting was going on between the two patients this week: one a middle-aged white drill sergeant and the other a black teenager who’s been in and out of trouble and foster care. My friend guessed they were secretly gay lovers, and I had been willing to go along with that, because it’s just the kind of plot twist House would go for, but *spoiler alert* it turns out they’re actually father and son, in a totally unexpected Luke-I-am-your-father moment (Yes, it is possible to recognize Star Wars tropes without ever having actually seen Star Wars.)
And so twice in one night makes it more than a coincidence in my book. It makes it reminiscent of a social phenomenon. It makes me think of the “Mixed Race Movement” and my friends S and J who refuse to identify themselves as one race or the other. They are my black friends whom I cannot call non-white, and they often make me question whether I can call myself the same. It reminds me of how, a few weeks ago, my friend JW said that he can’t tell when black people are Blasians; they just look black to him. I thought it was funny because I can pick the Asian features out almost instantly, because I’m so familiar with what the absence of them looks like. But no Blasian person could ever pass for just Asian. If TV says white mom plus black dad = socially black, and TV says black mom plus white dad = socially black, and society when scrutinizing Obama’s presidential campaign said white mom plus African dad = not black enough, then what is blackness and where are the lines drawn?
Racial mixing is really interesting to me, especially in conjunction with a mixing of the socioeconomic classes. A strange creative part of me wants to turn The Little Mermaid into The Little Mulatta and still have her hoard her secret life away from her parents, sing “Part of that World”, and leave the world she grew up in for something new and different (read: to her, clearly better). Oh, the things it would mean.

*That may be the title of a book or an article about mixed-race individuals, but I couldn’t find it on Google so decided to use it. No copyright infringement intended.

Next step(s) in my continual quest for self-improvement: I miss art. I don’t even remember how we started talking about this the other night during a half-(meaning only me)-drunken cuddlefest the other night, but B and I were discussing the fact that I used to be really into pottery when I was in middle school. I have this bowl that went on a statewide art tour to a bunch of different colleges, and there’s an etched plaque I made of a tree supposedly on permanent display in my middle school. I got to go on this cool field trip to this place in Millville called the Clay College (which I just realized still exists and now I want to go back but I vaguely remember it being prohibitively expensive. But you know what ISN’T prohibitively expensive? What is, in fact, FREE? The Ceramics Studio on campus. I’ve always talked about wanting to go, but I’ve never actually gone, and you know what? I’m sick of wanting to do things but letting…who-knows-what get in the way. I just finished watching the pottery episode of Community (my new obsession in life) and I don’t care if there are people who are better than me, and I don’t care if no one wants to do it with me, I’m going to get my hands dirty again. I want to pick clay from under my nails. I want to feel something forming underneath the palms of my hands and I want to guide it into being. I want to create something from a lump of nothing. And next year, I’m going to take a pottery class (as long as it’s not on Thursday nights).  

I want to make a major life change…

…that may be a little premature according to the tangible markers of adulthood I’ve attained, but should have happened a longggggg time ago emotionally: I am going to start referring to the house I grew up in as “my mom’s house”, rather than as “home”. While seeing my family still feels like “home” for the first day or two, and seeing the friends I grew up with can have the same effect, this place is no longer my home. My home is in Princeton, NJ right now. My home is where I live. It’s 113 Edwards 33 Prospect Street, for now, but that will change over the summer, and again in a year and a half, and again and again after that. But this house that I’m in right now, it’s not home anymore, and while that makes me feel slightly homeless sometimes, it’s something I need to come to terms with.

I’ve said this over and over this past week:

“I feel like a…’college student'”.
Which begs the question, well what do I feel like the rest of the time? (Some part of my brain answers ‘a Princetonian’.)
Anyway, I’ve been…watching LIVE TELEVISION. Watching TV and drinking. Going TO THE MOVIES. Playing video games. Playing video games and drinking. Watching other people play video games and drinking. Drinking for no reason at all. Ordering pizza at 1 am because we’re drunk and hungry. Doing the very minimal amount of productive work to feel as though my life is not an entire waste. Making money by doing paid psychology experiments instead of having a real job. Not setting an alarm any day of the week. I suppose the best statement to describe how I’ve been feeling is “like a BUM”. Why do I associate these two things in my head? They obviously don’t go together in any way in my understanding of college for myself, or even for the majority of the people who have taken my survey, most likely. So what’s going on here?

The following question was inspired by a random wall post from one of my friends to another one of my friends…

Would you date yourself?
It’s an interesting question. Really calls on you to do SERIOUS self-assessment, but from an outsider’s perspective instead of an insider’s one, and from the particular-outside-viewpoint of potential romantic interest. I don’t suppose this will be an easy task…
Would I date myself? I’m not sure. I’m a little crazy, but then again, everyone’s a little crazy in their own little way, right? I’ve got big dreams that I will achieve, lest I die trying, but hopefully we’ve reached an era of life when ambitious guys can handle a lady having some ambitions of her own. I’m not that pretty in a lot of the stereotypical-impossible-airbrushed-dominant-culture kind of ways, but I do my best to work with what I’ve got and I think it shows. I’m a big girl, but a big guy needs someone who can take it. I’m not the housewife type, but we’re talking about just a little dating. I’m a bit clingy, though, which I can see being an issue, but my clinginess is a byproduct of the fact that I give as much of my heart as I can spare to the people who are important to me. I’m kind of an intense person about a LOT of things, but who wants to be a candle when you have the potential to be a bonfire? I love to snuggle and if you don’t I don’t want you anyway, XD. I’m not very walk-all-over-able, and I will challenge your ideas and want to have intellectual debates but again, if this is a bad thing in your book, keep right on movin. I drink, and I curse, and I sometimes have problems with authority, and I don’t “do the whole religion thing”; there are other lifestyles that simply can’t get with those qualities, and I respect that–I probably couldn’t be with someone who is super-religious, or someone who categorically does not drink or curse, just like I couldn’t be with someone who smokes. I’m not a great dancer, but I will get out on the floor and shake somethin, and according to Lee Ann Womack that’s what life is all about, right?
But I think I’m approaching this wrong. The question is not would some rando guy date me, it’s would I, knowing everything I know about myself, date me? I, knowing how I am when I’m by myself, knowing that I change my mind all the time, knowing the kind of thoughts that run through my head and the way I approach things like friendships and relationships, knowing my every little bad habit and all the things that piss me the fuck off about other people. And I’m…struggling with this. At first, I am inclined to say no, because I don’t really like to be alone with myself. I’m working on it, but have not successfully reached comfort in alone time yet. (Unless this counts; blogging might be my only legitimate hobby. Meditation too, kind of. I want to take up yoga once the new semester starts.) But I love the person I am when I’m spending time with the people I love. I’m an extrovert; my energy and happiness and the warmth in my life mostly comes from my relationships, which I put so much of myself into and expect so much from. Knowing everything I know about myself means knowing my goals and aspirations and knowing the person I’m striving to become as well as I know the person I am, right? I would date the person I’m trying to be. I think that means I’d also like to help me get there…     

Does King Deserve to be King?

One of the biggest tangible changes being an African-American studies certificate pursuer has made in my life is my like, newfound…let’s say “objection” to Martin Luther King Day as a holiday, as part of a larger…yeah, I think we can actually say “disgust” with the commonplace representations of the Civil Rights Movement in contemporary American classrooms and homes. I hate being lied to, particularly by authority figures. I hate the images of Christopher Columbus and Abraham Lincoln that are portrayed to young children everywhere. I hate when culture tries to rewrite history to make it more convenient. And similar to all these hatreds, I hate that America puts MLK up on a pedestal without addressing any of the flaws in his strategies and ideologies. 

Now don’t get me wrong; Martin Luther King was an incredible man who did phenomenal things for black people in this country, and who tried to do similarly phenomenal things for poor people. There was a time when I would have said that I owe my very lifestyle to him; but that kind of statement, and the mindset it reflects, is exactly what pisses me off so much about this holiday. I owe my lifestyle to the Civil Rights Movement, fact, but while culture elected King as the Movement’s face, there are so many other people who made contributions just as–if not more, in light of the fact that I am a black WOMAN–relevant and effective on my day-to-day being. With all of my knowledge of African-American history, I can think of NO reason King deserves to be elevated over Malcolm X or Ella Baker. I can think of NO reason for the American public–even the BLACK American public–to think of Rosa Parks as just some little old lady who wouldn’t get up from her seat on the bus one day, as opposed to the die-hard political activist she really was.

Martin Luther King was many many wonderful things, but he was also a stickler for some pretty bad ideas: a) political sexism, and b) passive resistance. I think that to some degree, the black “community” as a whole is still struggling to recover from the lasting implications of the utter dominance of these ideologies, and the effective hero-worship and idolization of King in this country simply pushes conversations about the inherent badness of these ideologies further and further under the rug. If we can’t address the faults of the persons we are told to view as having been great in the past, how will we ever recognize them in the future? Sexism in the black community is STILL un-talked-about by anyone but black feminists, and fact: no one really listens to them anyway. My mother STILL says she’s oppressed as a black person but not as a woman, and black women’s position in society will NEVER increase until we can eradicate the existence of such limited mindsets. But how can we if we continue to praise King as our savior? Political sexism is, in some aspects, even worse than in-everyday-life sexism, because it’s like saying there are specific areas in which women can never be equal to men and certain arenas in which they should never be listened to, as opposed to just being generally ignorant. Passive resistance too often leads to just sitting there and taking the shit this country throws at us, and maybe I’m a radical but I will fight to the death for the things I deserve. We all should; it’s the only way to get anyone to listen. The Movement has DIED; now we all practice passive resistance, and our men and boys rot in jail, and our children fail in failing schools, and our success stories are ostracized and remain single and childless for being strange exceptions to unwritten rules…it’s not getting us anywhere. Blindly accepting King as the face of the Movement, as the King of race relations in America and as having the chief ideas that should be recognized and remembered just sets us back into the faults of his time, and I for one shall not regress.

Something Incredible Happened Saturday Night…

Nearly 8 years ago, my mother and stepfather got divorced. [Insert chorus of HALLELUJAHS! here] Lots of wonderful things resulted from this, along with something terrible. As soon as the divorce was final, my stepbrother’s mother decided that he was no longer to have any contact with his “other family”. She wouldn’t let him talk when we called, and when we kept calling, she changed their phone number. My brother, the one who is the same age as me, with whom I bathed and slept and played and grew and loved during all the earliest years of my life, was suddenly gone forevermore. 

I’ve missed him to varying degrees throughout the rest of my life, more and more since Greg reminded me what family is supposed to feel like. I don’t really give a shit that we’re not technically related anymore; that is my brother and I won’t really tolerate anyone saying anything different. When he turned 18, my mom and I really started trying to get back in touch with him, because his mom couldn’t stop us anymore. First we called his father, but [don’t get me started on] that man hadn’t spoken to his firstborn son in years and was disturbingly disinterested in our desire for reconnection. Fuck him. So then I started periodically searching Facebook in an attempt to find him, but he has both and very common first name and a very common last name, and I didn’t know where he lived or where he was going to school or anything that could help me narrow the search. I have two friends at school who live in the area he lived in when were growing up, and I asked them if they knew someone by his name, and one of them did! But it wasn’t him. 

To make a long story short, we were very discouraged. Short of hiring a private detective, there seemed to be no way to put our little family back together, and that fact was generally a small piece of sadness inside me all the time. (I am so sick and tired of people ruining MY family with THEIR issues. You no longer wanting to call someone “boyfriend,” “husband,” or even “son,” does NOT automatically entail that I no longer want to call him “mine” in some form. There are some bonds I can never imagine breaking, no matter how hard they are strained.)

I can’t really even express in words, then, how I felt when I checked my phone after watching a movie and saw that I’d missed a bunch of texts, two of which were as follows: One from my little sister saying B**** had friended her on Facebook, and one from Facebook saying those impossible little words: B**** J****** has requested to add you as a friend on Facebook. I was just talking the other day about how fragile life is, how it can just turn upside down and inside out in the blink of an eye. Sometimes upside down is a wonderful wonderful way to be. Life has this funny way of scaring and blessing you at the same time. My dad is so sick, just laying in bed because sitting down hurts, waiting for a call that he can come back to the hospital, and I am so worried about him. But my long-lost brother just walked back into my life and has missed me as much as I have missed him. He wants to see me as soon as possible and I just want to hold him for hours. I just want to look at him so I remember his face again. I have his number and I can’t wait to hear his voice.

Confession: Everything I ever say about family and how mine isn’t that big a deal to me is total and complete BULLSHIT. I think I just tell myself that to avoid remembering how much it hurts to have lost such important parts of it. But I don’t have a word for how deliriously ecstatic Facebook-chatting with my brother the night before last made me feel, or for how terrified I am about my dad’s health right now. My friends are my family, but my family is my family too, and my heart is feeling so much at one time right now. Daddy, I love you. BJ, I love you too. There are some bonds that can never be broken.