Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Happy B-Day to This Lovely Lady

More likely than not, if you read this blog, you know this woman, which—when you consider the 6 billion people in the world you could have met in her stead—is a major stroke of good luck. Some of you do not know this woman, and that is something you should really get working on. Either way, I want to see the Comments section get burned up today. Consider it your own private donation to Nick's Flick Picks (again, that stands for Not For Profit), a tiny tithe that I extract every few months in exchange for any scrap of pleasure you find or have ever found on this website.

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, She—who posts anonymously, so I'm keeping her secret—She 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 them—Saidiya Hartman, Farah Jasmine Griffin, Kara Walker—faraway 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!

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13 Comments:

Anonymous Ken Plume said...

After such an impassioned and convincing case, and even though I don't know her in any way, shape, fashion or form, I'd feel like a heel if I weren't to wish someone who's obviously quite special to so many people the happiest of birthdays.

6:43 AM, January 24, 2006  
Blogger Dr. S said...

Yeah, boyeee. Happy birthday, Beautiful Girl, even though I've already told you that via e-mail. I'm sorry I'm going to miss your parties. Now that I live on the top floor of a house with no one else in it, I miss hearing you walk around, and I remember fondly that party where you made us not one but TWO delicious kinds of chicken, and then we danced until ridiculous hours in your bedroom (and we didn't have to worry about waking the neighbors because I *was* the neighbors). And you packed my moving truck, which saved my life. I'm glad you came back to us, even though our first meeting didn't lure you to Fair Ithaca. And I'm glad you ended up in Nick's cohort and that you lured Lady Shazizzle to join all of us when she stayed at your house and that you didn't shout me out of your apartment when I drunkenly walked right into the doorframe the first night of one year's grad conference (thereby revealing to myself, with your help, that I'd drunk too much of that wine earlier). Enjoy the week. You know you'll burn up the Ithaca winter, all on your own. Badass!

7:50 AM, January 24, 2006  
Blogger damion said...

WOW! That is a "whole lotta love."

As a grad student, I know of what Nick speaks... therefore,

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!!!!!!

8:45 AM, January 24, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

YAY! Happy Birthday Shirleen!

ANN

10:14 AM, January 24, 2006  
Anonymous goatdog said...

I might not know you personally, but I know some people like you who helped me survive grad school. Happy birthday!

11:05 AM, January 24, 2006  
Anonymous ModFab said...

I don't know her, but I sure want to now! (I do know Kara Walker, however...she and I went to an honors program together during the summer of 1986, when we were both still in high school.)

1:42 PM, January 24, 2006  
Blogger JavierAG said...

If only because that post made me want to meet u, Happy B-Day!

3:32 PM, January 24, 2006  
Blogger amanda said...

Happy Birthday, Ms. X! I know it's hard to throw down and really party right in Ithaca (especially without Nick there to get things moving), but I hope you tear it up anyway. Get crazy, run up the hill naked, terrorize your undergrads--whatever you want 'cuz this is YOUR day! Have a good one!

4:25 PM, January 24, 2006  
Blogger NATHANIEL R said...

happy birthday to you...whoever you are also. Also please have a very happy unbirthday tomorrow and the day after that. wheeeeee.

4:31 PM, January 24, 2006  
Blogger tim r said...

By rights you must have had an obscenely happy birthday with all this well-wishing. Hope it worked out that way, anyhow!

5:41 PM, January 24, 2006  
Blogger Poking-Stick Man said...

I wish I could say it better than Nick (and others) already have, but I don't think I can -- so I'll just say "ditto" and wish you a VERY happy birthday!! Huzzah for Shirleen!!

7:48 PM, January 24, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh.My.Goddess!!!!
So there's 3 minutes left to this birthday-o-mine, and I could not have dreamed of a sweeter, dearer, kinder, more thoughtful and nostalgic gesture to mark my entrance into my 32nd year of life (just in case you thought Nick was cavorting with minors -- can i mention that I got carded AGAIN today).

You all should be excited to know I'm floating on three free drinks from birthday venue - Felicia's (Lord bless the generosity of the Ithaca crew). And Lady Shazzizle, who shared a comfy seat and laughter for 50 minutes of the L-word, alerted me at 9PM that I just might want to check out Nick's blog today when I came home. And so I have. And no surprise, the tears stream down my face beacuse I'm sappy full of love like that for any act of kindness (hell, i cried over a heart shaped loosed-lea tea infuser gift)

@ Nick, you remain the beat that my heart will never skip;
@ Dr. S., how I wish you lived beneath me still.
@ Ann - thank you dear for drink #2 that's launched me into my present state of blissed out
@ Poking Man Stick, thanks for your hurrah - and your pedagogical mentorship influences me still
@ Every other fan of Nick's website... thank you for your birthday wishes. Thank you truly - i 'heart' every last one of you - and have become a film critic groupy, and award show addict because of You and You and You... (Hell,I proudly watched the Golden Globes at the local Sports Bar with you film angels hovering on my shoulder).

In closing, spread the love is what I say. Hug an Aquarian near you, cuz January can be the cruelest month to be born. Read some Edith Wharton (B-Day Jan 24th) or Virginia Woolf (B-Day Jan 25th) and think of me on my quest to touch as many people as their interior worlds have already touched.

Much love,
A Lovely Lady on Her 32nd Birthday

P.S. Nick, you do know that I laughed at Grandma Varga's threat to throw Victor outta door, because my own mom's thrown similar threats It's a cultural thang, but I know you'll understand.

11:16 PM, January 24, 2006  
Blogger billtron said...

happy birthday Shirleentron

11:10 AM, January 28, 2006  

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