One day near the end of the summer I decided it would be a laugh to accompany my friend to the birthday party of her sixty year old activist boss. As we walked up to her beautiful row-house turned garish with unnecessarily and inconsiderately bright doors and window jams and banisters, I caught that sweet yet savory, musky yet bright aroma of weed. I sighed. There’s nothing worse than a bunch of high sixty year old activists dancing to Motown songs in the privileged part of DC. After greeting the birthday senior, I slouched over to the food table to survey the fare. Good cheese, good bread, good fish. It was like Ina Garten was somebody’s fairy Godmother. As I scooped Mediterranean veggies onto a piece of crusty bread, I overheard this, “…of course, being born is my most painful memory.” Oily vegetables forgotten, I whipped around to see what nut-job had the audacity to utter something so granola. I found her. She was younger than the rest, maybe early fifties, and she looked astonishingly normal. Simple yellow gold studs adorned simple attached lobe ears which adorned a closely shorn head set with small features. I brazenly evaluated her. Nine, I decided: Nine for managing to look normal on the outside of a head that contained all that crazy. I scoffed again for good measure and turned my attention back to filling my plate, and in quick succession, my belly.
Looking back at that moment, and back at that paragraph, I realize I’ve been taking it incredibly easy on myself. Somehow, someone or something had bestowed on me the mantle of judgment and I was making good use of it. I believe if I had continued in similar fashion from then until now the heavy thing would be threadbare to say the least. The ailment I was exhibiting (being a judgmental little crap) was one of perception, and the most dangerous bit is that I didn’t know anything about its existence. I thought I was way up, perched on my luxurious branch of superiority and intellect looking down at this pathetic hippie yammering on about her impossibly cosmic memory. In fact, it was the opposite. She was, and probably is, my superior in at least one very important facet of existence. Self-legitimacy.
Now, see, up until now, I had readily self-identified as an intellectual. I went to the “Ivy League of the Midwest” for God’s sake. I had just finished law school, taken the bar, and I had a university teaching position lined up for me. I was an intellectual. I had bought the right to say that to the tune of half a million dollars. Shut up. Intellectual. Me. Ok? I could hold my own in a discussion about Medieval British literature; I could figure out complex physics equations; I could draw organic chemical reactions; I could bust some lyrical prose over your head; I could reason my way out of your half-witted argument; I could equate your point with a similar point that historically FAILS; etc. The problem though, is something I hadn’t ever thought about before. I had to have this legitimacy as an intellectual sold to me, like so much sugar and butter that one manages to make into sub-par frosting. I had to purchase it, like someone without that butter and sugar who needs to get it from outside of herself. I hadn’t found it inside of myself, and worse yet, I hadn’t even looked for it there before pulling out my wallet.
Crazy-lady-with-short-hair here had. And what’s more, she’d found it and used it.
Now, looking back at her, I envy her. I envy her conviction and the ease with which she was able to speak her Truths. And, she didn’t look high, but even if the cogs and inner-linings of her true self were lubricated with herb, the sort of conviction of self that it takes to reference something as subjectively abnormal as your memory of your own birth is, understatedly, laudable.
The first lesson we learned in law school was in Contracts class. If ever we were unsure of something, our professor advised, we should say it twice and loudly. I understood that to mean that opponents sense hesitance, and to combat that, say whatever you’re unsure of with confidence so that your opponent won’t attack. Perhaps the reason I saw it this way is because I sensed a huge void of confidence inside, and the two dueling parts of me were constantly in combat, seeing weakness and attacking, seeing weakness and attacking. Bolstering weak parts with bought intellect and traded legitimacy and starting the whole battle again. Maybe what I should have understood is simply that although you may be unsure of something intellectually, if you know that it is, at its essence, correct, if your inner innate scholar believes it, then say it; and say it twice. Say it three times! Make it your mantra. And if your inner innate scholar doesn’t believe it, you wouldn’t have said it in the first place.
I’m not saying that I would be able to stand in a crowd and say something as brave as what the woman of this hour said. I’m just saying that now I can see those dueling parts of me. I can see the wounds and gashes inflicted by my judgmental mind on my hesitant soul, and I can feel an intellect that wasn’t bought vying for a spot in the light, vying for that mantle, that crown. And I’m thinking just maybe, it’s high time for a change in leadership.