to celebrate national novel writing month (or the unfortunately nicknamed "NaNoWriMo") this year i will spare myself the white-hair-inducing effects of writing 50,000 words in the month of November by writing a story a day.
these stories will be of any length and veer into any territory i wish. the idea is for me to write one a day for every day of november. these will be first drafts with minimal editing.
if you are into any of it. please comment below! perhaps you can help me figure out if there's ANYthing in these stories worth adapting or polishing into something awesome.
story 6. thomas sowell is an a**hole (by jenny yang. tuesday, november 5th, 2013)
as a young girl, every lesson i received from adults on how to be a person was about how to please others - guests, elders, and other such authority figures who had a say in stuff. nobody ever sat me down and explicitly told me about how i should treat myself or how others should treat me. it was all about performing for other people’s needs and expectations. this finally changed when i got to college.
college was when i became politicized. i finally had the language and the support network of people to connect my experiences of injustice with how the world worked. as with most political activism, the immense amount of energy i expended in the public sphere masked the helplessness i felt in fixing the problems of my personal life.
i was so upset over doing an assignment for my international politics professor, i refused to do the work. it wasn't an "oh i'm pissed i have to do homework" kind of a pout, it was a pain deeply connected with my political passions. The assignment to analyze a baseless and racist book about American diversity politics and affirmative action.
i also couldn't stand this professor in general because his perspective on "multicultural politics" was antithetical to my perspective and analysis on the world. this fissure between us was so deep, i developed a psychological block against him. i’m pretty sure the author was Thomas Sowell, that racist son of a bitch.
It’s one thing to face everyday racism in your life; frankly we grow up getting used to that. but it’s another thing when we have to confront it in the form of a so-called academic and authoritative treatise. the power of reading complex ideas in print was what i was in college for but this time the power of the words was wielded unjustly and my non-participation in the assignment was my form of resistance. i was late on the paper. i had fits and starts writing the paper. but i just couldn’t put myself through it. the material itself was not even worth brain energy spent on putting words to paper.
so i forget if it was initiated by me or by this professor, i went to have a session with one of the deans who mentored me. he was an african-american administrator who was also the advisor to the black student groups and in charge of the black cultural center on campus. he sat me down and heard me out. when i got out my last sob and indignant huff, he looked straight into my eyes and said, “jenny, do you know what you are here for?”
what is that a rhetorical question?
“i’m here to learn and grow…”
“no. i mean the bottom line of why you are here, jenny.” his intense stare did not waver.
he had to answer his own question.
“your only job here is to graduate. that’s it. THAT is your job.”
“i know. of course but…”
“no. you are here to graduate which means you need to finish this paper. i understand what you are feeling. your feelings are valid. what you think about this professor and the books he has you reading is probably valid. but you are here to do one thing: graduate. if you do not graduate, then they would’ve won. that is your basic job here.” and for emphasis he grabs my arm and said, “don’t let them get you. don’t let them get TO you. finish the paper.”
okay. so i did.
as he suggested, i wrote up a little mantra that i would post on my computer monitor and read whenever i was feeling resistant to finishing the paper. it went something like, “defeat the assholes” or some shit like that.
so i cried-laughed through the paper, piecing together some semblance of an enraged thought piece about how thomas sowell’s data and analysis is bullshit and turned it in.
i got a C.
that was probably the toughest and only C paper I ever received in college. but i was almost pleased that i got a C because i didn't believe this assignment should've been dignified by my efforts in the first place. but i passed this class. done and done.
what i learned from this experience was that we have to pick our battles. i was so swollen with self-righteousness over my identity and social justice politics that i lost sight of the fact that my energy, while abundant, was limited. and my own mental health and survival as a student, was paramount over whatever tiny battle i felt like i was waging with this professor. this was a shitty battle to wage because the consequence for me if i won was not passing a class that was in my major. the consequence for my professor was nothing. he had the ultimate upper hand. duh, jenny.
the smartypants college i attended was notorious for attracting the most intense of students, and the statistics bear this out. we have the highest per capita of students who go on to get law, medical and doctorate degrees. when we get into something, we are INTO IT. unfortunately, that level of dedication and intensity don’t support healthy life habits. fortunate for me, i had a mentor who intervened when he saw my weakness and taught me a valuable lesson. i’m here to run the marathon and not a sprint. any raging against injustice however big or small needs a healthy dose of perspective. we only have a certain amount of energy to our day so let’s be smart about how we use it.
i’m only understanding now what that means for my life as a comic and writer - and certainly in the realm of personal relationships. learning how to treat myself and how others should treat me requires daily effort. hoping to build up my abilities to run the marathon.