Monday, October 16, 2006

the competition

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After working all weekend to revise legal writing memo number one, due today by noon, I have a little breathing room. Property is cancelled this week, although there is a makeup Criminal class tomorrow in that time slot (but not today! and not Wednesday!) I could be studying Contracts, but I'd rather blog.

Contracts gets me down. I enjoy the reading so much and I hate the class itself. Contracts is evil. Something happens to my mind when I get there. No matter how much or how little time I spend on the reading, I always feel blank and unbalanced. Today we did math. We calculated, or attempted to calculate, damages. We read a case where a lady had bad plastic surgery and ruined her nose. The doctor had promised her beauty and perfection, and delivered disaster. We had to plug in figures and variously calculate restitution, reliance, and expectation damages for her. I missed that she would still pay the hospital, since she was actually suing the doctor. How did I miss that? Dumb.

I think I have mentioned that the girl sitting next to me bugs me. She started out nice but then I think decided that I wasn't very smart since I never answer his questions very well. So she is snappish. I think she worries I'll ask her for something. Competititive people are like that. They always worry that in a world of finite resources, someone will try to take away from them what they have justly earned. I don't want to think about her. Why do I have to think about her? I feel this way about school often. I can't keep myself apart enough to remain unruffled by the bizarre emotions of these first-time graduate students. If I try to hang out with them, though, something is never right.

There she sits, typing furiously next to me in two classes, three days a week, driving me insane.

We are different species. She is trying to be smart, but she talks like a Valley Girl so the boys will like her. I have spent my life learning to be critical, and I don't care who knows it. Her smile is brittle under the strain of trying to seem nicer than she feels herself to be. A lot of the things I say and think would be considered mean and judgmental, or "too intense," by people like her, people in their twenties. She is compulsively overprepared. I gave up briefing cases weeks ago when I realized that it took up enormous amounts of time merely for the benefit of helping professors teach their classes by calling on you and having you recite facts. She is the kind of girl who would have a Mean People Suck sticker, or at least, agree with it. I am a mean person. I suck.

I like to judge people, measure them, put them in categories, find their limitations, then fall in love with them when they try hard to be smart, or interesting, or kind. I like passionate people. I like people who are messy and unruly. You would think this was the very definition of a young person, but in fact, young people are rigid. Very young people are still worried about what other people will think of them. Other young people. Their professors. Job interviewers.

When people, any people, are worried about what other people will think about them, they make you feel that way, too. You know the feeling--you suddenly feel too loud, too cynical, too fat, too old, too learned, too butch, too opinionated. Too much. People in their twenties can make you feel like that. A lot of women of all ages make each other feel like that. Women in general have a lot in common with twenty-somethings in the way they monitor other people's behavior. Women are idealists. So are twenty-somethings. Idealists want a utopia. They want purity and goodness. They want to uniformity so that the rules can work. They also compete with each other. Monitor, compete. Two sides of a coin that replicates itself, mother to daughter, down through the ages.

Men, they are angels for remembering to breathe. But women? They'll drive you crazy. They drive me crazy.

GF came to visit me for the first time this weekend. She has offered before, but I have insisted on getting the hell out of here instead. This weekend she had a conference paper to write and wanted to work in the law library. We spent the whole day Saturday sitting quietly next to each other getting work done. It felt heavenly. Getting her away from the stresses of our apartment--two needy Siamese cats and a running toddler pounding the upstairs floorboards day in and day out--made us both realize that we enjoy each other a lot. Even just sitting quietly, working.

GF and I fight sometimes under the strain of it all. Not this weekend, thank goodness, but sometimes. She calls me a beast. I call her a horrible person. At some point it blows over like a summer storm. It is never about anything except its own energy released. The energy of idealism, of being nice, of being women. Women and lesbians in a stern world.

I think maybe it is the best kind of feminism to fight with women, to tell them what you think of them, to forgive them and love them again, to let them be themselves in a world where only men are allowed to march differently. I wish I could crack the manic achiever facade of the mad typing girl. I wish she would blow up or calm down. Throw things or laugh. If she did we could be friends. But her mask is tight on her head, and she's not coming up for air until after exams on December 16th. Tll then, we'll be at an impasse--she with her pursed lips and flying fingers on one side of the long table, me with my rolling eyes and slouchy sweaters on the other side. Worlds, genders, generations apart.

Unless I kill her first.


Hilaire said...

Oh gosh, what a great post. I love the way you have captured this myopia that is so peculiar to women...this hysterical need to police ourselves and others. It reminded me of Emma Goldman, who wrote, "Woman, essentially a purist, is naturally bigoted and relentless in her effort to make others as good as she thinks they ought to be."

Heather said...

My sense is that you would make a good
cultural anthropologist: you're much more comfortable observing rather than participating. Such is also, I suppose, and on a different note, a way of being kinder and gentler to the word, a refusal to impose one's self and being on others and the world (but which is also a form of symbolic and ideological self-quieting, the dimunition of one's voice and presence to a whisper, a fleeting memory or glance).

Such people fascinate me, their unique ways of looking at the world, I mean, their being in the world but just as easily outside of it, for part and parcel of this liminality, I think, is their just as often forgetting the extent to which they're the scrutinized objects of another's penetrating gaze and mediations.

Dialectical reverals like that fascinate me, 'looker' bearing witness not only to the return of their gaze, but the overwhelming knowledge of being found out and exposed, revealed and shown up, grabbed and yanked out of the comforting shadows of obscurity and homogenity into the unrelenting light of recognition and judgment, criticism, personal avowal or disavowal. And all one a split second, no less.

That scene, the scene of the epiphany, I mean (and for how long, one often asks, was another looking at me while I simultaneously looked at still another??), just gets me. For though gesture is reciprocated, the gaze, I mean, there's this other yet even amazing thing happening, and it occurrs, I think, a split second after that moment of recognition, where one or both people, if only through their self-same eyes, inevitably ask, 'Did you really just see me?'

Elizabeth McClung said...

enthralling post - I am going through a similar experience and never fail to wonder how a self absorbed, aloof, condesending couple 20 year old women can in reality be acting incredibly "unadult", like a kid acting out a play of expectations, and yet I walk away feeling the villian - is it ever possible to truely leave high school?