Back up five minutes. The snow-angel I’d opted to make in the middle of a small liberal arts campus in Illinois was face-down and fist-pounding. Neither the making, nor the image created, were particularly beatific.
And ten minutes before that? There was a screaming match with a male professor behind the closed—and apparently not soundproof—door to his office.
Who screamed? Likely, it was me. Back then, and often still, I think of myself as a shy girl, a friendly woman, generally kind, polite, and soft-spoken. Self-knowledge, however, or any accidental witness, can fuck up the best-laid myths.
During my first year in college, I was forced to conceive the truth of my own ferocity. In the middle of a colloquium discussion for a literature class, I felt my breath catch in my throat, my rump scooch right to the edge of my seat, closed fists grinding into the underside of the table, every muscle in my thighs and arms and jaw and abdomen clenched and poised to spring, even the chair tipped forward.
Then, a voice came to me. I overheard a classmate three chairs away whisper: “When’s she gonna blow?”
Poof! The entire reactive argument I was about to launch dissolved into this suddenly illuminated mirror. Oh, shit.
So what about the “baby” during my first trimester? The figurative “bump” people saw was definitely conceived in the heat of the moment, but my passion was unlikely to be interpreted accurately by anyone besides a few students in my lit class: there was no adequate cheat-sheet available to liberal eavesdroppers in old hallways, glassy-paned witnesses to my weather-embrace, or well-fed and mildly-stoned students watching snow melt in my hair.
As if nothing at all was growing in my body or in the rumor mill, I stood in line in the cafeteria to get my rice and cottage cheese, the staples I was fond of when the regular menu displeased me. My face reddened, yes, because I was thawing.
Clearly, I knew nothing. Later I’d learn that nothing screams pregnancy more than a good “glow” on the cheeks, eh? And a bit of interpersonal “heat” must signify a fling, right? What on earth could possibly explain the flailing arms of a young woman other than the rebuff of some probably married man?
Most certainly, the professor did rebuff me.
He told me that an essay I’d handed in was publishable—and then he told me he was giving me a C-. This made no sense to me. Isn’t the point of school to learn to do work that will matter in the real world? If he thought my essay was so good, why was he giving me a C-?
When I stormed out the building, knowing I needed to cool off, I proceeded to plop face down in snow less than twenty feet from the front stairs into the building.
The essay the professor and I had been arguing about was called, “Mating Elephants and White Undershirts.” I think the class was anthropology, maybe. I suspect I was trying to get away with analyzing the dinner table habits of a nuclear family as research. I tended for the next decade or so and multiple universities to bomb anything vaguely related to the “study of people” (i.e. psychology, sociology, history, women’s studies, perspective drawing, weight lifting). I did what I wanted to do: write.
As a freshman, even though I would drop out within nine months, I was not pregnant: I was stubborn. What I found most amusing at the time about getting “knocked up” in the public consciousness was that I hadn’t yet bothered to have sex. I had, however, been writing for well over a decade, making small xerox’d books, and working on literary magazines in whichever clutch of universe I happened to be cornered.
Passion matters. And it has consequences. The same can be said for priorities. For myself, I will continue to cultivate the work I care about before I shell out energy for someone else’s agenda. For others, who knows what’s best. Following instructions can land you a job. In turn, simply looking compliant or behaving submissively can definitely get you asked out on certain kinds of dates. Perhaps, in the best of both worlds, every now and then, a professor—or boss or spouse or lover—will say simply: “Make literature.” Then, compliance would be a worthwhile—if rashly nonspecific—goal.
Really, the question is simple: “What do you want?”
And “How much?”
Turns out, books can be harder to explain than babies. They both, however, at least some of the time, begin with desire.