Today, I got an academic award. The keynote speaker said we should brag about it. Be confident in our accomplishments. It wasn’t anything major, just a small recognition for the fact that I am a student who apparently kicks ass. It’s funny, really, that as much of a magnet as I am for other peoples’ feedback, I truly hate being recognized. I didn’t know I would have to go up onstage. I didn’t know they would read a bio of my life. I didn’t know I would have to cross the stage, in heels, and shake hands with all the university big-wigs that I’ve already had dealings with on so many other levels. As I stood up there and listened to the speaker talk about me, I realized I couldn’t look out at the audience. Not because I was afraid of them. But because I didn’t want to meet any of their eyes. Because I knew that they were seeing me. Really seeing. My university is a tiny pond, and I’m a big fish here. If they see that, I will have to admit it. I’m not ready.
The lists of my accomplishments today was quite long: Dean’s Advisory board, magazine editor, teaching assistant, conference presenter, award winner, published writer, three year degree, strong GPA. Accepted to graduate school. More than one graduate school. Going to get my MFA in New York City. NEW. YORK. CITY. These are all facts—things I know, pieces of me. They can’t be argued. They just are. I hear these things, and I go “Wow. I did all that. I am doing that. This is me,” and I know that it’s true. I’m doing overly well academically. I even got my first paid writer’s contract this week. So why is this all so hard for me to hear?
Why don’t I know how to take a compliment? Why don’t I like to hear these things about myself? Easy. I’m afraid of the big pond.
When I first started college, it was the most terrifying thing I had ever done. So many people, so many things. I didn’t want to get involved, I didn’t want to make friends. I didn’t want to be there anymore than I had to be. But I started getting A’s, and people started taking notice. They were saying good things. For a lot of my life, I’ve heard the bad things. Or rather, I’ve been known for the bad things. The woman whose baby died, the woman whose husband was an asshat, the woman who was raped, the woman who is broken more often than she is whole. It’s easier for me to be her, because I know how to be her. I don’t know how to have good things, to have a life that’s good. To live.
The hardest thing in this world is to live in it. Be brave. Live.
What does it mean to be brave? The concept is becoming different for me now than it used to be. For a while there, brave was simply getting up in the morning. Then it became getting up and doing something with myself. Gradually, it morphed. Starting college. Keeping going. Holding on through all the stress. Again, getting up in the morning. Applying to graduate school. Making friends. Forming relationships. Selecting a graduate school. Pushing through when my brain is hard to live with.
Now, bravery is moving. Picking up my entire life and shifting it to this new place, this place where I will be a big fish among even bigger fish. Where maybe, just maybe, I will actually be the tiny fish academically, and where I will definitely be the tiny fish socially. New York is huge, and I am so, so small.
But am I? Or have I made myself that way?
You will note that, for the first time on this blog, I used the word rape paired with myself. Because yes, that’s a part of me. And in avoiding it, in not using the word, in running away when I hear it, I make myself small. I make myself not worth notice. I make what happened to me inconsequential by my silence when it’s anything but. It has impacted me every step of the way, in all of the decisions that I have had to make. By ignoring that, by pushing it to the background, by refusing to say the word, I tell myself that I am not worth the acknowledgement. I make myself a smaller fish, and I don’t want to be that way. Perhaps the solution is in admitting what happened to me so that I can turn it on its head. Conquer it.
I live a life of black and white. Good or bad. But perhaps I can be a fish who just swims with the other fish. One who doesn’t get eaten. One who is tough and strong and gets her things done. Maybe I can make my home in a new pond. I want to make a difference; I want people to read my work and feel something. I want to make it worth something, and I want to live up to the title of “shit disturber.”
I can’t disturb things if I’m too afraid to get in the pond. Now…to find that bathing suit…