There’s something so odd about reading my own clumsy words in print. The newspaper residue blackening my fingertips seems to signal a legitimacy that my words don’t deserve. I make out a better way something could have been phrased, an unclear transition in the next paragraph. All these imperfections represent thoughts and a self, both subject to change and yet permanently etched onto this newspaper, rubbing onto my fingertips.
My ink-dusted fingers remind me of how my hands feel after digging through old boxes in my garage—musty cardboard leaving an invisible layer of grime on my hands. I moved around as a kid, so oftentimes I had to dig through old boxes to find things that I had neglected to unpack.
I remember a notepad that I owned and loved in elementary school. It came with a pen and had a little section on the back where you could fill in all of your personal information. I easily wrote in my name and my birthday, but got stuck when I reached the line for “address.” I knew that my parents were only renting the apartment where we were living at the time; I knew this wasn’t the house that I was going to be in a few years down the line; I couldn’t really say this was my address. So I tucked the notebook away in my desk drawer and decided that I would start using it when we moved to our permanent house and I could write in an accurate address.
The funny thing is that after we moved, I was digging through our boxes and couldn’t even find the notepad. I guess it had gotten lost between all the packing and unpacking. All I could do was clap the dust off my hands and trudge back upstairs.
Today, I toss the newspaper in the recycling and run my hands under the sink water. I don’t even feel the residue washing off because phrases from my article keep trickling through my mind.
The sentences from my past columns sound too…something. Too wordy? Too awkward? Maybe it sounds too “me.” Too untouched, too raw. It’s like the feeling I get when I say something in class and realize how mediocre my comment is even as the words are slipping out of my mouth, and before I know it someone else is pointing out the flaw in my argument.
It’s not simply the fact that I wasn’t perfect, but more like I know I could’ve done better and that others will see me as less than I can be. It’s not embarrassment so much as a sense of injustice that others are left with an inaccurate picture of my abilities.
But is it really inaccurate?
At some point I consciously did choose to write that awkward phrase, and it’s not like anyone was holding me at gunpoint when I uttered those mediocre words. If I actually were something other than that, I would not have written it or said it.
When watching a trivia game, everyone hates the kid that shouts out the wrong answer to a question and then, after the right answer is revealed, proceeds to comment, “Oh, that’s what I meant.” But I guess that’s what I’m doing now when I disown those awkward phrases or mediocre arguments.
Similarly, I think I was wrong in believing that my address didn’t belong in a page of information about me just because it was temporary. Just like I would rather spend the time that I spend fretting about the great injustice that I have accrued upon myself instead just taking steps to improve, I think I would’ve rather just written my address in and used the crap out of that notepad. Because the fact is, regardless of whether or not it was temporary, I did live at that old address.
We’re taught that everything we choose to present needs to be as perfect as possible. That’s how we all got here, isn’t it? By meticulously putting together a representation of our best academic selves and submitting it to be scrutinized by the admissions office. But that’s only the beginning of our self-representations. In a way, everything, from comments we make in class to articles we write, and even down to the way that we introduce ourselves, is part of these representations. Instead of fretting about whether or not how we present ourselves is how we want to be permanently, what if we accepted them as accurate reflections of who we are at the time?
If I’m going to end up with grimy hands anyway, I’d rather have it be from ink rubbing off from the newspaper residue now than from digging through old cardboard boxes later.
Grace Koh is a second-year in the College majoring in political science.