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Apr. 22nd, 2009

I have twenty-two years of "shut up, Claire" under my belt.

Twenty-two years of, "Sure, we've patronized you for three sentences, but nobody actually wants to hear anything about the strange and obscure things that are actually important to you.  Shut up, be polite, and listen to somebody else's socially appropriate conversation".  Seared across the cortex of my brain.



I have an entire childhood's worth of, "It'll be ok if you just ignore it; if you don't let them get to you, they'll go away" instilled into me.  If you refuse point-blank to acknowledge the things that make you weep and hide in back corners of libraries, then they'll stop, because your pain is amusing; this is its sole purpose.  At any rate, if you bury it hard and far enough, it won't maatter to you, either.  And then it won't hurt any more either way.



I have years of "You're still young, Claire, but it's ok.  We'll laugh affectionately and pat you on the head, and one day, when you are as wise as us, you'll have outgrown these petty emotions" so drilled into me that I cannot face anything-- pain.  stress.  joy.  love.  fear.  anger.  want.  --without, there on its heels, shame.  Guilt.  Horrible, helpless powerlessness.  Defensive terror.

"Oh, Claire.  You're the nice one."  Pet.  Pet.




I have a brain that runs entirely on hypotheticals.  I have a new contingency with every breath, a new idea of what to do about it at every second.  I am not surprised.  I am never surprised.  There is nothing I do not expect, even if I have not thought of it before.  There is nothing outside the realm of what I consider 'possibility'.  I am not stupid.  I am often caught by the unforseen.  I am never surprised.




"You expect a lot of people," says Liz, and, "That's why I'm glad you're not my TA this summer."
I do not. 

"It's just as easy to get it right as to do it wrong," I say.
It is not.



I do not expect anyone to ever get anything right.  I always expect everyone to care enough to try.

I am usually disappointed.

Those are people I have little patience for.


If I care enough, I will get it right.  If I care enough, I will do it myself.  If I don't,  it won't ever get done.

I've got the power of years teaching me what I can live without.




I have a decade and change of being told how very, very brave it is for me to pursue a career in hard science: because I am a woman.  Because, well, it will be harder for me.  Life is going to be hard, and am I sure I really want to deal with that?  Am I sure I know what I want?  And if I do, well, then.  That's very admirable.  That''s very brave.  It is special.  It means something now.

Well, isn't that very nice for feminism and science and the future of the world.  Isn't that very sweet of you, to warn me.  For reference, it is in fact harder.  I am afforded less respect.  I have more to prove.  I am expected, if I ever get married, to be the spouse who gets shafted, in moving, in hiring, in taking off time to tend to kids.  But thanks so much for doubting my ability to do it anyway.




I have about five years of being a cold and heartless bitch to go on.  Repression is very calming.  Nobody actually wants to hear about my emotions, except, possibly, if they are painful in such a way as to be entertaining.



I do not have a good history with delicate things.  When fragile things are around me, they tend to break.  Fragile things are delicate, precious; they are to be protected.  But however much the protection, sooner or later, someone will crush them anyway.

I can break computers by looking at them.

Human beings are extraordinarily delicate.





Once upon a time, the story goes, Our Dear One was young and frail and trodden-upon, made miserable and cloaked in misery.  The one little duckling was very, very ugly.  The little cinder-girl sat in the fireplace and wept.

And then came the fairy godmother, and she said, "Ta-da!  Someone else will save you.  Congratulations."

And Our Dear One was taken and wrapped in cotton wool and kept, warm and dry and snuggled tight, as protected as any precious, delicate thing. 




There are stories of glass slippers and mirrors hung on thin little hooks, entire palaces spun from crystal and glass.  Precious, desperately fragile things.




"Wow," says Liz, looking at the shattered ten-gallon aquarium sitting next to my front door, waiting to go out.  "I've never managed to do that before."

This, as they say, is why we can't have nice things.



Once upon a time, Our Hero was young and frail and trodden-upon, miserable and cloaked in misery.  And the fairy godmother came down, and Hagrid found Harry in the house on the rock, and Arthur pulled a sword out of a stone (or if you ask the BBC, Merlin blinked and froze time), and the farm boy stared at the old, gray-bearded man in amazement.  "You have this power, see.  You have this destiny."

And Our Hero, our stumbling, gawky, awkward child, is struck down into the mud for one last time.  And through the haze and the dirt, Our Hero sees red.  With a swell of music and a close-up camera shot telling us that now, this, NOW is the time, Our Hero turns, sweeping himself up with a magnificent gesture; catches the sword-blade barehanded, drives his foes back with a wave of magic that he hadn't known he possessed.  Our Hero smites them down forever more, and when he returns to himself, he sees, around him, their victims now even weaker than he, such bruised, fragiile things.  "It's okay," our hero finds himself saying.  "I am the strong one now.  I'll protect you."




It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it.



I have twenty-two years of cultural conditioning that if I shut up, if I suffer just a little more, if I wait and I'm good and I'm worthy, Someone will come and take care of me.  I have twenty-two years of watching people be tended to in real life.

I am not somebody's 'nice thing'.  I am a bulky, clumsy thing.  Nobody is ever coming for me.




The women I'm related to, my sister, my mother, they are delicate things.  They are precious and need protecting.  I'm clumsy.  I crush things.  I break their hearts.

I am not four or eleven or sixteen.  I am twenty-two years old.  I love frogs and mud and horses.  Nobody is ever coming for me, and I will not live with a broken heart.




This is not an epiphany.  These are not things that I have just discovered about myself.  None of this is new to me.  You did not see this before I did.  You do not know me better than I know myself.  You do not know me at all.




"You should be more careful.  You could hurt someone's feelings," says the wounded deer, with big, watery doe-eyes.  And I do not laugh, because broken, shattered things aren't funny.  Even the ones that won't kill you.



I was four years old when my sister was born and it started being explained to me how very important it was for me to be the bigger person.  Someone has to.  It's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it.

If you want things done right...





There are not a whole lot of people in this world who can keep up with me.

(Once, there was a cold midnight in the middle of springtime, and a cluster of girls so very full of exhaustion and adrenaline.  There was an open shop, for water and for food, and bright fluorescent lights, and outside the cold midnight was not dark, and around the table they sat.  They said 'privilege' like it meant something, something more than, "This is a _________ and not a right, young lady, and don't think it can't be taken away".  They said, "this has been my pain, but I am still here".  They said, "life is chaotic and wonderful".  And they orbited around one, in the center of the group, who talked faster and said more than their fast words were already, with more honesty than their already-naked truths, with more irony and more cynicism and more joy for life.  But when they spoke, they were not shut down, their ideas were listened to, their voices were welcomed, and heard.  Once, there was a night like this.
And I listened to other people's pain, and I asked questions about the strange and obscure things that were important to them, and somewhere, very quietly, like all epiphanies, I thought,
"oh".
And I spoke faster.  And I shared more.  And I did not ask so many questions, but we talked about MY strange and obscure things.  And noone resented me for daring call the conversation to myself.  And Kit kept up with me.
Last October makes more sense after that.
)


(And once, I visited a college, and as the other graduate students gathered us together for Thai food and laughter, a girl who I never saw again sat next to me.  We spoke for ten minutes.  We spoke about birds, and about pizza.  We spoke about things that I don't close to remember, like I don't remember her name, or the names of anyone else I met that night.  But we spoke so fast half the people I know couldn't have followed the conversation, and we were laughing, racing, pouring words and ideas one on top of the other, and later, as I flew home, I thought to myself, "This.  This is the place." 
And also, I thought, "do not tie your heart to this too firm, child, because when have you ever wanted something so badly and gotten it?"  Which was wise of me, but it was too late anyway.)



(And once, in a class about stories, in every class about stories, a room full of people sat and stared like spectators at a tennis match while my best friend, while the strange girl I'd just met, and I, argued like a game, just for the fun of it.  We left them in the wake.  We didn't notice.  We didn't care.)


And once...

and once...




But these are not people who will take care of me.  These are not people who can.

Domesticated sheep without a shepherd will only die.  Throw a goat into  the flock, teach it to act like a sheep, then throw it out on its own.  See what happens.  Goats are nasty bastards.

It'd probably end up kicking the local coyotes right in the head, because  goats are nasty bastards, after all.  It'd probably never forgive you for having to, though.



If you want something done right...




Sometimes, I'm a cold and callous bitch.  Life's a shitty job, but someone has to hold their shit together.




"It's just, there are certain people that you meet," said the girl, trying to explain.  "And you're not..."

"I'm not like other people," I admit, easily, because I've been told so all my life and it is no longer a struggle to accept.

"Sorry!  It's not...it's a good thing," she says awkwardly, explaining-but-not-explaining, but it's ok, because I know already.

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Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
tygrestick
Apr. 23rd, 2009 04:26 am (UTC)
I read this. I wish I had something more meaningful to say- it is an incredibly meaningful piece of writing- but I just wanted to let you know I read it, and I'm thinking about it.
crystalizelight
Apr. 23rd, 2009 04:45 pm (UTC)
Thanks, hon. I'm glad it meant something to you.
hayleyscomet
Apr. 23rd, 2009 06:22 am (UTC)
There is a lot bubbling up inside me wanting to be said. It's having a bit of trouble forming coherently, though--I've started typing and then deleted three or four whole paragraphs by now.

Sometime, let's really, really talk. Perhaps the next time we drink together; I might need that before I'm able to spit out all these things I'm trying to say.
crystalizelight
Apr. 23rd, 2009 04:45 pm (UTC)
I would really like that. I want to hear you.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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