18 November 2008

Flurry and Fall; Weird or Queer?

This morning, I arrived at my 8:00 am class early. It was almost impossible not to, as the class was two doors away from my office, where I'd spent the night.

Only five of the twenty-three students had arrived. That was all right with me; we still had time. Another walked in and exclaimed, "It's snowing!"

I peeked through the slats of the blinds that covered the classroom window. Yes, indeed: Flurries were fluttering down. On the blackboard, I wrote the following:

Snow flurries; leaves tumble.

Then I slipped over to the window and peeked through the slats again:

The sun is retreating into clouds

I continued this pattern: Look out the blinds, write a line, go back to the blinds--until it was time to start the class, and I had written the following:

Snow flurries; leaves tumble
The sun is retreating into clouds
Below them, the ground lies bare.

Morning now. None has died
From darkness, only from cold.
They are falling

And I am waking
To their dreams unfolding
Reflections in my eyes.

As I wrote, the room filled with students. By the time I stopped, we were about five minutes into the class. Imagine coming into class at 8 in the morning--especially after you've worked a night shift, as many of those students do--and seeing your professor almost entranced and writig strange things on the board.

Without my prompting, some students said they liked it. One called it "deep." It'll take me a while to know whether or not it's worth anything, or whether I can expand it, edit it or do anything else to it. I'm not even sure of what, if anything, it means.

Can you imagine one of the students going to the dean's office and saying, "Professor Justine got weird on us." And any of the deans--or the president--would probably say, "Got weird?"

Actually, if anything, I might be less weird now than I used to be. I'm thinking now of a conversation I had with Nathan, an absolute sweetheart of a young man who is cute because, well, he totally looks the part of a young English professor. Somehow we got to talking about notions of "queerness" and how they have been depicted. He made the point that, basically, a "queer" is anyone who doesn't reflect his or her society's gender norms.

I thought about that one. "So, by that definition, I was probably more "queer" when I was living as a straight man."

"You're probably right. Now, you are more or less what people expect of a straight woman of your age and in your position. But you were probably different from other straight men."

"I know. I've been able to sustain only a couple of friendships with men. That's probably because I couldn't relate very well to them as a 'guy'."

"Yeah...You're emotionally different."

"Oh, you got that right. Even when I was doing 'guy' things and getting respect for how well I did them, I still never felt like 'one of the guys'."

I never, ever tried to be the weird one. Even as a teenager, I didn't rebel, even though my mother, father and teacher thought I was. I've never, ever done or said anything for the sake of being contrarian; if anything, I tried as best I could to fit in. During my teen years, I could do that somewhat by doing relatively well in school and playing sports. But when anyone talked about my future, I couldn't envision it: It was as if they were talking about someone else. Marriage, kids, becoming a military officer (my father's idea) or any number of visions my parents, teachers and other adults had of my becoming a man.

Snow flurried and leaves fell this morning. And, even after a sleepless night, I was a wide-awake lady prof. This afternoon--That was another story! I'm ready to drop even faster than those leaves. As long as I don't fall....

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