Sunday, March 26, 2006

"Are you a student?"

Regina & chicken, originally uploaded by regrodriguez.

Back in 1984, when I was an undergrad joining a church choir, people asked, "Are you a student?" The answer was yes.

In 1992 when I was a graduate student applying for a charge card, the saleperson asked, "Are you a student?" The answer was yes.

In the past 12 years since I moved to Chicago, people sometimes hear me say I'm originally from California and for some reason still ask, "Are you a student?" At first I tried to be patient, explaining that I was done with grad school and had moved here to work on music. But every year the question becomes more exasperating. No, I'm not a student!

Yesterday I applied for a job at a restaurant. The manager sat down with me and looked over my application and resume. He asked, "Are you a student?" As politely and patiently as possible, I lifted my hand and pointed to the graduation date on my resume. "No," I said, "I graduated twenty years ago."

I'm going to be 40 years old in four months. Forty years old. I'm goddamned sick of this question. Please don't bother telling me it's a compliment and I should be happy that I look so young. The question "Are you a student?" always makes me think I must appear small, underdeveloped, uneducated and stupid. Every time someone asks if I'm a student, I think they must see me as inexperienced, vulnerable, not yet ready for the real world and like they can take advantage of me easily. Every time someone asks if I'm a student, I feel offended and I want to say, "I'm almost 40 years old! Do I lack the wrinkles on my face that might convey all the life experiences I've had? Do you think that because you don't see crows feet and laugh lines that means I haven't spent the past twenty years since I graduated trying to plant myself in the world, trying to establish my character and moral code, trying to figure out my best talents and fix my worst flaws? Because if I have to explain it to you, I can tell you about my experiences with cultural alienation, self-loathing, financial struggles, creative frustration, suffocating loneliness, familial pain and realizing I'm too old to ever be a young bride. I've been through all of that and more so don't you dare take away the only thing I know I've gained. While I have failed to achieve monetary success, marriage, motherhood, critical acclaim, self-actualization or creative accomplishment, the only thing I know I've gained is age. So don't you dare try to strip me of the weight and experience of my 40 years by asking if I'm a student."

The photo above was taken in the past few weeks. What is it about me that looks so green and naive that I look like I haven't managed to graduate from college??

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