Letters to my Classmates

A few years ago, as part of a class writing exercise/assignment/ongoing essay thing, I started writing letters to my classmates, about once a week, as an experiment in intimacy and in writing, and in “memoir as ethnography” — incidentally both the class I was writing for and the memoir as ethnography class I’d previously taken were taught by the same amazing professor. The class had a really amazing group of people writing really soulful, passionate, funny, sad, intense, beautiful, poetic, traumatic and epic work on a variety of deeply interesting topics. By the end of the class I think there was a mutual feeling of connection and I like to think that my letters may have helped that along.

So, as a launching pad to reviving this series, I’m going to repost a few of these letters. Keep in mind that these were written in the Spring of 2015.


Letter #1

Intimate Correspondence

3.6.15

Dear Class,

I’ve been trying to think of a better word to use to address you besides “class.” It’s too formal and too general and the exact opposite of what I hope this letter maybe might do, but it’s the only one I could think of to talk to all of you at the same time. I thought about writing this letter in segments, one to each of you, but sadly I have to confess I don’t know all of your names as well as I’d like and I didn’t think it would be very nice of me to write a letter to “that really interesting guy who’s working on Food Studies.” Also, I’m embarrassed that I don’t know your name because you always have interesting things to say and I suspect that you maybe know mine? Anyway, that’s a specific example but there’s more than one of you in the class like that. I just learned Ian’s name last week, but even now I might be confusing him with someone else? That’s because I’m writing this on Friday, at the library, and I can’t look at you. When I read this in front of you on Monday, I will probably be extremely embarrassed.

I have another confession to make. This is not what I wrote my abstract about. Nor is it any of the first fifteen or so ideas I came up with to write about for this class. Actually, that’s a lie. I did think about writing you all a letter, because I feel like De Certeau said I could. But I abandoned that idea. As of yesterday I was going to write a catholic church ceremony except instead of being about Jesus it was going to be about Captain America. I was going to rewrite some prayers and bake some cookies so I could have you all take communion. The wine would have been Brooklyn Lager in a Captain America pint glass that, yes, I already own. In case you didn’t know, Steve Rogers is from Brooklyn. But I abandoned that idea too. I felt like I was taking myself too seriously or something or that it wasn’t based well in the theory we’ve been reading or that — and here’s the root of it probably, I was too embarrassed to commit to performing Captain America Evangelism in front of the class. I might still make the cookies though.

That’s something I’m trying to fight through right now. Not the cookies, the embarrassment and my fear of vulnerability. I was talking to James McMaster last Monday because we ran into each other (not literally) at the West 4th street subway station. We rode the same train and made the small talk you always make with a colleague that you sort of know, but sort of don’t know. I told him about my struggles to figure out what to write for this class. I mentioned that I’d been thinking a lot about intimacy lately and manufactured intimacy — I read an article a couple weeks ago about a study on manufactured intimacy. The study, called “The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness: A Procedure on Interpersonal Closeness” was published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin but I heard about it through the New York Times article, which I probably saw on Facebook. Anyway, the study included a questionnaire with 36 questions which, when asked back and forth between two partners, seemed to cause a dramatic spike in intimacy. That is, if you complete all the questions one after the other.

Luckily, none of you have to answer the questions because this is my assignment. So I’ll answer them and you can decide if you feel like you know me better afterwards. But because it’s my project, I’m going to pick and choose the questions. Anyway, this letter can’t be long enough for me to answer them all.

#7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?

Not intuitively, but logically, my guess is cancer.

#8. Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common.

You’re all my partner for the sake of this test, but I think we all love to read. Maybe not necessarily the things we’re reading for class, but I think it’d be hard for any of us to get this far if we didn’t all love to read. Secondly, something that’s bothering me a lot right now and that I suspect we all deal with from time to time is the artifice of academia. For example I’m really struggling with reading responses for another class that insist on demonstrating understanding of a text when I know that we will all walk into the class the next day and confess that none of us know what the fuck we’re talking about. I think that kind of behavior really enforces in people a refusal to admit to what they don’t know because we’re being trained to make shit up when we don’t know instead of just asking. I hate that. Sorry. End rant. The third thing we have in common… We all seem to care, really deeply, about the issues that we’re studying. We’re just a really passionate group of people. Some of us mask or hide it and some of us care about some pretty wildly different things than others, but — I dunno. Maybe that’s an easy thing to point out as a commonality? Maybe all people care really deeply about something. But then again maybe it’s not so bad to have something in common with literally everyone. Everyone poops too.

Okay. another question before I start talking about poop.

But seriously though, since Abjection class last fall my enjoyment levels when talking about poop have seriously increased. I enjoy talking about poop a lot more than I used to.

Seriously though.

#1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

I’m going to assume they mean anyone living… hmmm…I have to think about this for a minute. You can’t see it because I’m reading this to you after the fact, but I am now going to stop typing, put on my glasses, stare out the window of the fourth floor Bobst Library and think about this for a few minutes — Okay I’m back.

This is a really hard question. I thought about several people — like Tamora Pierce, the author of my favorite young adult novel series. The novels had a profound impact on my childhood. I also thought about George R.R. Martin and Shonda Rhimes and Barack Obama. Ultimately though, I’d really love to have a Galentines Date with Tina Fey and she could bring her best friend Amy Poehler and I could bring my best friend… friends? How many people can I bring…? This is hard. But I’ll stick with Tina Fey. Even if it was just one-on-one I’d hope that she could instill me with some of her confidence and wisdom and just lessons in being a BAMF.

Note: Remember how I said this was written in 2015? That’s before Tina Fey lost all of my respect with The Unbreakable Sexual Violence Victim and her Racist as Fuck BFF. Because trauma is HILLARIOUS, and no one can be mad at a kidnapping rapist so long as he looks like Jon Hamm, right? RIGHT? And don’t get me started on Mr. “Pinot Noir.” I’m not bitter, you’re bitter. Anyway, these days I’d really like to have dinner with the Obamas. Because Michelle Obama is the BAMFiest BAMF that ever BAMF’d.

That means Bad Ass Mother Fucker in case you didn’t know.

Okay this is the top of page four, so I’ll answer one more question before I wrap it up. Choosing the last question is also difficult. Number eleven is a challenge to tell your life story in four minutes, but I think I’ve already written too much to take another four minutes so I’ll save that one for a later date. I’ll do this one instead:

#6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?

For reference, I’m 27 as of the time I’m writing this and I’ll turn 28 this summer. In any case, this question is really easy for me. I’d choose the body. Not because I value the body over the mind but because I would never ever want my mind to just stop at a certain age and not develop any more. Yes, it might deteriorate some but I feel like there’s a lot of value in gaining that wisdom and experience that comes with age. I cannot imagine what sort of life I’d be living if I had the mind of a 20-year-old me right now. Ever since starting this MA I’ve learned different ways of thought. I can’t conceive of what I’d be giving up if I stopped doing that at 30. Conversely, while I’m not averse to the idea of a 90-year-old version of my body (I’m actually kind of excited by the idea of grey hair… I think it might be a good look for me…) I also have to recognize all the things that can go wrong and all the limitations that can occur when your body doesn’t regenerate as quickly as it used to. I only learned to snorkel this past December and I want to learn to scuba dive but I’m broke and perpetually busy. If I had a body that was relatively this body for the rest of my life I could look forward to so many more adventures!

I like adventures. This is one of the reasons my actual partner — like… romantic partner not partner for the sake of this quiz. Anyway that’s one of the reasons we get along. We both love adventure. Even though Yoda says Jedi’s aren’t supposed to want adventure. But in the words of the infamous Weird Al, “stick it in your pointy ear.”

Anyway, I’m winding this letter down. I hope that it’s something like a practice of everyday life. I hope that it’s at least somewhat evident that I’m thinking about De Certeau and Bachelard (a little, I’m not done reading yet), and affect and intimacy and a bunch of theoretical stuff. I hope that you all don’t think I’m stupid or trying to get away with something, but then again I did say to Julia the other day that academia is whatever you can get away with. I also said that academia is about always having to explain the joke. Which is kind of what I’m doing here I guess.

In any case, I wish there was a better word for you as a group than “class,” but that’s what I have for now. The limitations of language.

Would it be weird for me to say I love you?

I’m going to say it anyways.

I love you.

Sincerely,
No, like, actually, literally, I am trying to be sincere,
Joan