I’ve been thinking thinking thinking. I feel deeply that I’m going through a shift, a personal change that has been building up to this very moment. It’s weird, but it’s as if a wave came over me and I no longer have access to my former self. In the attempt to recover, I’m left only with picking up the pieces and figuring out who that person was, and how to reconstruct a better version. On an isolated college campus, you’re constantly going against projections of who people think you are while also trying to figure out who you actually are. These projections rear their ugly heads in all aspects of life here. I’ve found myself looking outward in hopes to see myself peering back through someone else’s art. This week, the profile of Zadie Smith in New York Times Magazine, articulated how I’ve always felt about process of dating, on campus especially. (I’m probably not gon’ get that MRS degree, y’all):
Zadie’s status as a former ugly duckling has given her a provisional attitude toward her looks. “I did not mind dressing up for strangers,” her narrator remarks in a passage Zadie admits is characteristic of her own story, “but in our rooms, within our intimacy, I could not be a girl, nor could I be anybody’s baby, I could only be a female human.”
I ask about that passage. “When I was growing up, just the whole idea of being a girl—it seemed like a lot of work to me. Even now, I will wear lipstick and mascara but I will not do anything else. I won’t do my toenails or my fingernails. I was terrible at dating because of what dating involves, the presentation of something.”
“You’re pretty presentable,” I say.
“I am presentable, but it’s like Nick says: The moment I come in, it’s sweatpants, makeup off, huge crazed Afro.”
“Men have never noticed toenails or fingernails on women.”
“I know. I also sense that. I often feel that women radically overestimate what men notice or care about.”
The work of being female, the performance of gender—Zadie has her limits. Whenever I compliment her on a dress she’s wearing, she tells me how cheaply she got it online. If I mention a new hairstyle, she thrusts a Cleopatran braid into my hand and says, “extensions.” Once, she called me from a hair salon, near tears, to say she couldn’t meet for dinner that night because her hair had “broken down” and she was going to have to shave her head and start over. When we finally got together, I expected her to look bristly headed and traumatized, like Dustin Hoffman in Papillon. But Zadie sauntered into the restaurant smiling, a mop of “Flashdance” ringlets bouncing around her face. Fake, too, apparently. Like femininity. Like literature. She wanted me to know.
Reading that passage planted both of my feet firmly in the ground. The bits and pieces that resonated were swiftly copied and pasted and sent to my friends. It’s all I can do until I can find a better way to articulate whatever this moment in my life is. Yeah, I have a flare for the dramatic, but it feels particularly important, as though I’m on the edge of something great or something horrible—no middle ground. And whenever I slip too deep into the blues that comes with being a college student, or a Black woman in a very White (Liberal my ass, y’all don’t even know!) space, I find some form of upliftment in the work I see online, in cinemas, in books. Then, I’m reminded that everything will be fine and that in the end, I’ll come out of all this a badder bitch. Word to Nicki. ♦