Happy B-Day to This Lovely Lady
Please be so kind as to shout, sing, exclaim, extemporize, bellow, blow, and beat-box some Happy Birthdays for this gorgeous gal. Let's make her day.
If it helps to know why you are doing this, Shewho posts anonymously, so I'm keeping her secretShe is an undisputed, uncontested Life Force of an English Ph.D. program in a wintry mountaintop town. I know a lot of grad students read this blog, including some non-Cornellians, and if there's anyone in your program who smiles at you and hugs you and encourages you every time you need it, who remembers everything about your life from your birthday to your shirt size to some joke you made five years ago, then you know how it feels to know the Lovely Lady. You recognize how a drab linoleum hallway, a slow line at the xerox machine, a bored lull at the seminar table, an awkward silence at a talk, a grey month in a grey season, how all of these things need a sunny-side optimist and a caring friend to put the pulse back into them, which is what She does.
As the above picture amply illustrates, she is so much fun, she gets you smiling like some kind of deranged Osmond.
If you have ever moved to a new place, even as an adult, by which time you feel you really should have mastered the skill of meeting new people quickly (you were so outgoing in your previous digs, so surrounded by friends!), and yet you're still having trouble figuring out where you'll fit in.... please look at this woman's face, and trust me that she is the person who invites you out to the front steps of the building where you both work now, and she exchanges confidences and confides insecurities and includes you in her goals and introduces you to her raucous, unembarrassed laughter, and you know without a doubt that you've just made the closest friend you are going to make in your cohort.
If you ever sat around a seminar table, or in a meeting, or at a reading group, and you wondered, Why do people still read literature? How will I ever catch up? What right do I have to insist on my own instincts, my own way of doing things, which keep appearing to lead me into trouble? And how do I know this degree I'm pursuing isn't a self-indulgence? then this is the woman you are so whole-heartedly grateful for, the woman who commiserates with your bouts of self-doubt and self-criticism, because she has plenty of these bouts herself (and you wish so much you could relieve her of these, find the magic mirror that shows her the She that we all see, whom all of us admire and adore)...... and yet, she doesn't doubt the value and worth of what you're there to do. She sees the beauty in your work and the promise in your ideas when you don't, she feeds the institution and the profession just when you're feeling most cynical about them or aloof within them, and she inculcates in you a desire to be of service, to be active and engaged and engaging, and to trust that everything you're doing is for a noble purpose, and for the sake of its own pleasure (no small thing!). These, after all, are an unbeatable tag-team of reasons to choose a profession.
She introduces you to people, some of them standing right in the room with you, some of themSaidiya Hartman, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Kara Walkerfaraway ideals that turn into shared idols (and some of whom, if enough years go by, are suddenly standing in the room with you, too).
She gives herself no credit for being beautiful, but she is, as is so manifestly clear in photos like this one (my favorite). I don't remember ever seeing her dressed this way, but something about the frontways Hurston-tilt of the hat, the radiant grin, the mischievous twinkle, the lovely indigo color of the blouse, the fact that you wonder what's in the locket, the fact that she is so obviously happy to be sitting on someone's floor (because none of us own enough furniture to sit on, and we're used to this, and who are we kidding, it's fun)... all of this captures how terrifically vivacious she is, how unexpected and memorable her humor is. The longer you look at the picture, you realize with a start that apparently, some graduate student in the tundra of Ithaca actually succeeded in keeping a plant alive in their apartment, and you can't but credit Her with some of this achievement. She is photosynthetic.
She is a terrific and generous cook, unembarrassed of spice and flavor. She sends you gifts when it isn't your birthday, or your anything. She keeps your secrets, and you keep hers. She lets it bump with the BEST of them. She is full of love for her family. She is so full of love for her friends that it's like being in her family. She speaks truth to power. She laughs infectiously when Grandma Vargas tries to hand Victor over to the state, with all of his belongings tied in a Hefty bag.
She makes. a huge. difference. All the time. She'll keep making a difference. People who care and who follow these sorts of things, her sorts of things, will know her name. In her own words, she doesn't want to be one anymore... and she doesn't have to be, and she won't be.
For now, she's the birthday girl. Now give it up for her!