Occasionally I meet a person–usually a woman–who tells me that she’s lost her voice. It’s not that she can’t write at all, she says. Depending on her age, she might have successfully written term papers, a dissertation, even a book or two…But it doesn’t feel like her voice, she says. Rather she’s learned writing a voice she once learned was safe, and after a while she couldn’t remember other ways with words. She welcomes exercises of the sort I suggest, but still, she confesses, it feels risky to share unguarded writing. As our conversation continues, I usually learn that once, long ago, she wrote a journal or poems or stories. She would love to write again in her own voice, with her whole self, but for now…it’s too scary.
– Kirin Narayan, Alive in the Writing: Crafting Ethnography in the Company of Chekhov
Sometimes when you’re twenty-five you find yourself attending a coworker’s going-away party. You’re not sure about your new coworkers, and haven’t made many new friends yet, so you stick around until the end of the party. When you reach your car you find three of your tires have been punctured. This is the third time this year someone has inexplicably damaged your car.
Earlier in the day you worked at your job. It is a part time job without benefit. This is the contingent cultural economy. Like many of your peers, you have a Master’s degree, and an undergraduate education from two of the nation’s most elite institutions. Still you find yourself working on Saturdays for eleven-fifty an hour with a bunch of twenty-two year-olds because some variety of “quarter life crisis” (they tell you) compelled you to temporarily (you remind yourself) quit a prestigious PhD program. Now, instead of spending your Friday afternoon reading about South Asian diasporas, you attend a mandatory “membership sales training” during which a sales consultant offers your colleagues and you strategies for selling memberships at the museum front desk. The consultant encourages you to act as an ambassador to the museum even when you aren’t working, and you wonder whether it will ever be possible for you to simply exist without being a piece of sponsored content for neoliberal corporatism. Tomorrow is Sunday, and you’re unsure if you will be able to make it to work on time.
Your grandmother died three weeks ago and the last thing she told you before she died was that you’d done a good job combing your hair. You spent your teenage years with your nose in a book, and meanwhile your aunts were teaching your older cousins how to be helpful around the house. While they cook and clean and feed and serve, you try to be helpful, but more than anything else, you feel burdensome. When you leave the kitchen to bury yourself in yet another book, you can’t help but feel indolent.
You still haven’t gotten over a boy who dumped you seven months ago, and you only dated for a month. He has a girlfriend now, and you’re not sure if you were actually falling in love with him, or if you are simply frightened by the uncertainty of ever finding someone who loves you. You’re not the kind of girl people try to set up with their friends, and you wonder if that’s because no one quite knows what to make of you. Still, you are proud to be unconquerable—to have evaded a certain kind of docility.
You had offered to drive your coworker home, but given the roadblock, she offers you the guest bedroom in her home, which is much closer to the site of the party than your parents’ house, where you have been living for two months. You live there, not only because it is cheap, but also because it provides a kind of safety and comfort you can’t find elsewhere. For now, you have nowhere else to go. You call your parents, who are decidedly asleep, and although they are more than willing to pick you up, they don’t insist when you tell them you have a place to crash. You return to home of the party host, you wait for an Uber that never arrives over a round of wine and cigarettes. You decide to walk to her house, which after all is just a short distance away. Your shoes are uncomfortable, so you decide to walk barefoot.
She insists that in solidarity, she too will walk barefoot. On the way home, she expresses her anxiety about nearing thirty years. Later this week, she is going to the Dominican Republic, and in preparation has realized that the older you get, the harder it is to lose weight. You keep your own life long struggles with your body to yourself, and you don’t tell her your hair is the longest it’s ever been in your whole life, and that you’re waiting to cut it until after you lose fifty pounds, a goal you know you are unlikely to achieve. You are empowered by the powerful fat women who are claiming their bodies, and even believe in their beauty, but you are unable to convince yourself that you are, or ever will be, fully beautiful or fully lovable. You know you are mistaken to think so.
The walk takes far longer than the promised eight minutes and the occasional rocks along the path poke into your feet and you’re worried about shards of glass embedding themselves into your soles, but you insist on being intrepid, and a little bit prideful that at the very least, you live a life of mild precarity. Your coworker alternately tells you stories about her life, apologizes about her dog who you might be afraid of, and warns you that her boyfriend’s brother’s friend might be sleeping on the couch when you wake up in the morning. When you arrive at her house, you greet the pit bull according to her instructions, and fill your water bottle. She returns with stretchy pants and a t-shirt and shows you to the guest bedroom that houses a queen-size bed on a four-poster frame. She even offers you a toothbrush and a brand new tube of travel size tube of toothpaste, and a spare iPhone charger so you won’t be stranded. This is the most comfortable you’ve ever been while sleeping at a stranger’s house.
The next morning, your father picks you up and you go to assess the damage to your car. he buys you a burrito before dropping you off at work, where you change out of yesterday’s clothes in the bathroom. During your break, you purchase a Watermelon Sour Patch Kids Slurpee from 7-Eleven, and you can’t explain the purchase except for the fact that you were compelled by sheer boredom curiosity.
These are small matters, and your obsessive self-reflection causes concern about your chronic self-absorption, and simultaneously feel inundated by news of others’ happiness and contentment. You read relentlessly because there is nowhere to find truth, save for in fiction. You are unable to muster any meaningful commentary on the infinite ongoing atrocities and inequities around you. Sometimes when you’re twenty-five, you can’t help but ascribe these consecutive misfortunes to your own moral and existential inadequacies.
Anar Parikh is an anthropologist-in-the-making currently living in Charlotte, North Carolina. Anar enjoys getting manicures, and appreciates a good top-knot. She occasionally tweets nonsense at @anarparikh and blogs inconsistently here.