Girl in Automotive School: On Symbolism

 

The High Holidays of Judaism always arrive at around this time of year: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, followed quickly by the less High but still 8-day long Holiday of Sukkot (7 days if you live in Israel).

 

And I’ve noticed this year, maybe even more than any other year, just how much each of these is rife with symbolism. There are unusual fruits eaten with their own brief prayers relating their metaphoric significance or at least puns about them and how they relate to the blessings we hope to have this year. There is apple dipped in honey for a sweet new year. There is round challah bread to symbolize the circle of life. On Yom Kippur, it’s a common custom to wear white to signify a fresh start. And don’t even get me started on all the things a sukkah may or may not symbolize.

 

Sometimes a sukkah is just a sukkah? Nope, never.

 

I’m not going to deny that symbolism can have great power, that seeing a physical manifestation or reminder of an emotional truth can be very effective. However, I think it’s largely true that the symbols that have the most power to us are not the ones that are passed down to us (not to say that there’s anything wrong them), but rather, the ones that we create for ourselves.

 

I am no stranger to making my own symbols. I’ve been choosing certain actions based on their metaphorical resonances since long before Augustus Waters made it cool.

 

[Side note: I recall reading a review of The Fault in Our Stars movie and the reviewer scoffed at Augustus’s cigarette metaphor, saying that it barely worked in the book and certainly doesn’t work on screen, and to that I say, “BAH. There’s nothing to ‘work’ or ‘not work’ about it. Either you acknowledge that there are people who create symbols for themselves or you don’t. And if you don’t, well, you’re wrong.” We may be unbearably pretentious but that doesn’t mean we don’t exist!]

 

For instance, a while back I took to wearing a fake engagement ring, first as a social experiment and then, as explained here, as a symbol to myself of all the times I have felt most wanted, chosen, or loved, by classmates, coworkers, friends, acquaintances, family, etc.

 

Lately, I’ve taken to wearing another kind of ring for symbolic purposes.

 

There is symbolism in my choice of hand pose and background posters as well. I’m just so symbolic.

 

The ring is a clamp from the inner tie rod of a car that we worked on in class. (Tie rods are what connect the tires to the car’s rack-and-pinion, which is attached to the steering gear and moves to the right and to the left to steer the car. Not important! Well, no, very important, but not in regard to this post.) Point is, it’s a piece of a car and I turned it into a ring. I even coated the outside with clear nail polish so that it would be shiny.

 

The symbol has a couple of major layers, which I was very conscious of while choosing it:

 

  • It takes something stereotypically masculine (car part) and turns it into something stereotypically feminine (shiny ring). This is important to me because it helps me fight my internalized misogynistic thinking that anything feminine or girly or pretty is inherently inferior or weak or useless. These are constructs that are pushed onto us constantly and — while this may surprise you, given my affinities for bright clothes and makeup — I am still deprogramming myself from my aversion to anything girly.

 

  • I made a very conscious choice to wear it on my left ring finger, where it is customary to wear an engagement and/or wedding ring. I did this even though occasionally my fingers swell up a bit and it might make more sense for me to wear it on a pinky finger or even the ring finger of my right hand, which may be slightly narrower. But I didn’t want to, because I absolutely want that symbol of commitment for myself. That this is what I am dedicating my life to right now. That even when it’s overwhelming, or I’ve had a bad day full of sexism and frustration, or when it’s a long weekend and school feels far away and it may feel easier to slip backward into a more conventional career, this nail-polished piece of metal around my finger provides a physical, tangible reminder for why I won’t do that.

 

I lost it a couple weeks ago, and I felt naked without it; kept tightening my fingers or reaching my thumb over to my ring finger to feel the ring but it wasn’t there, and I felt unsettled and anxious, like I’d lost an anchor, like I was loosing my grip on my commitment. It’s irrational, but that’s how much power symbols can have. I totally understood why Augustus would risk his life to get another pack of cigarettes to replenish his anchoring metaphor and regain his equilibrium.

 

bonus John Green
excuse to post gif of Augustus Waters being adorable

 

What was worse than losing it, though, was the way I lost it: I took it off to wash my hands before eating bread, as per the Jewish custom, and I forgot it by the water fountain where I washed. This was because the water fountain is in a fairly small, semi-isolated nook of the school and I don’t like being in that nook for any longer than necessary, because I can’t help but be aware of the fact that out of anyplace in the school building, that is the easiest one in which to overpower a girl. It’s not like it’s ideal for that — if I screamed they’d totally hear me in the shop — but it’s definitely not the most comfortable place to linger. So I get jumpy when I’m there, and as a result, forgot to put my ring back on and by the next day, it had been cleared away.

 

And I hated the symbolic significance of how I’d lost it — letting sexism and fear push me around to the point where my behavior was affected and I lost something valuable to me — I hated that even more than I hated losing it, and so I desperately wanted to replace it, to erase that negative energy and make sure it never happened again. Luckily, I take home lots of spare odds and ends from shop, and I found another inner tie rod clamp in my small collection, and that’s the one I currently wear.

 

So the symbolism on this one is three-fold. Better not lose it.

 

 

______________

Like my thinky thoughts? You can commission more of them via my GoFundMe campaign — http://www.gofundme.com/sm-automotive — or subscribe on the sidebar, and thanks for reading!

Advertisements

#ThrowbackWednesday — “Sandwich Method On Myself”

Since I missed last Thursday’s throwback post (for a legitimate reason this time — it was the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah), I’m gonna post this today and pretend I’m trying to make #ThrowbackWednesday happen. (It’s not going to happen.)

Original post is from August 26th, 2012, and it’s relevant for its soul-searching and introspection that are supposed to mark this portion of the Jewish year. I don’t know if I’ll have time before Yom Kippur this Saturday to write up a revised version of this list, so I’m going to hide my laziness behind Past-Me’s poignant self-analysis.

 

* * *

 

Sandwich Method on Myself

 

No, this post has nothing to do with feminism.

 

The “sandwich method” is a colloquial name for method of critique that I’ve been encouraged to use in some of my writing workshop classes, because it is a) the most humane, and b) generally the most effective. It “sandwiches” the criticisms between positive feedback, i.e. it starts with the good, then moves on to the bad, and ends with restating the good or adding more good. People tend to be more receptive to sandwich-structured critiques because it’s clear that you’re on their side.

 

It’s Elul now, the Hebrew month before the start of the Jewish New Year, and I have to admit: I’m not particularly proud of this year.

 

I let myself be treated poorly. I left myself be kicked around, I let myself be used. Not saying I was a doormat, because that would be extreme and untrue, but I let my standards slide at times, and let myself think certain things were “okay,” because I thought the trade-offs were worth it and that I was being too picky about what I needed from my friends.

 

So I’ve decided to use the sandwich method on myself, because it’ll probably be more productive than just wallowing or beating myself up over any of this.

 

Some things I’m good at:

 

1)   Making soup.

2)   Calming people down when they’re freaking out.

3)   Talking myself out of doing stupid things.

4)   Hiding my pain.

 

Things I’m bad at:

 

1)   Talking to my parents.

2)   Giving up.

3)   Letting go.

4)   Listening to music for more than half an hour without wanting to bawl my eyes out.

5)   Not getting sick.

6)   Writing on days when I have no inspiration.

7)   Getting my required volunteer hours done. [Edit from the future: This was a college requirement for my Honors program and I got them done!]

8)   Not telling myself “you’re asking too much” when no, I’m asking for very little.

9)   Keeping in touch with people who aren’t on facebook.

10)  Wearing high heels.

11)  Not judging people who wear high heels even with back and leg problems.

12)  Not valuing the opinions of some people who aren’t really my friends over the opinions of my true friends.

13)  Doing my laundry in a timely fashion.

 

Things I’ve gotten better at but am still not great at:

 

1)   Talking to strangers.

2)   Confronting the people who hurt me.

3)   Not burning quinoa.

4)   Not throwing up when certain conversation topics come around.

5)   Making plans that require me to leave the house and put on clothes.

 

Some more things I’m good at:

 

1)   Keeping in touch with people who ARE on facebook.

2)   Finding humor and fun in almost everything.

3)   School.

 

 

And a serious question for those of you who think that my list probably isn’t comprehensive: What else am I bad at and should work on during the upcoming year?

 

“Shut up about your lists and make me a sammich, woman!”

 

______________

Like my thinky thoughts? You can commission more of them via my GoFundMe campaign — http://www.gofundme.com/sm-automotive — or subscribe on the sidebar, and thanks for reading!

#ThrowbackThursday — “New Year’s Resolutions”

In honor of the upcoming holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which gives all students at CUNY colleges random vacation days! (You’re welcome btw.) This is Throwback-Throwback Thursday post, because, as it says in the post below, while it was initially posted on Facebook on December 28th 2010, it was written about 4 or 5 years before that.

***

 

I wrote this in tenth grade, but — fortunately or unfortunately — it’s always relevant.

 

 

I hate this time of year.

 

It’s the time when everyone wants you to look inside yourself, figure out what’s wrong with you, and start trying to change it.

 

Some people laugh it off and joke about it, but it’s only a little too obvious that they’re just afraid of what they’ll find if they do look.

 

I’m not afraid. I know what’s in there. I know exactly what’s in there. I’ve been looking straight inside myself for as long as I can remember. That’s my problem.

 

By the time I reached fifth grade, I knew every single thing that was wrong with me. I knew exactly what kind of person I wanted to be and what I needed to change, and I had it all mapped out in my head.

 

And I failed. Miserably. Time after time after time. And I hated myself for it.

 

I’m selfish. I’m obnoxious. I’m sarcastic. I’m insensitive.

 

And don’t I know it.

 

But eventually it dawned on me, through my self-hatred, that I have friends surrounding me. I know they’re all better than I am, I’ve known it for years.

 

But they like me anyway. They don’t just put up with me. They actually like me.

 

And that got me thinking: I’m bad, but I’m not that bad. Maybe I’m not a total loss.

 

I’ve spent the past year learning to like myself. It’s been one of the best years of my life.

 

I’m intelligent. I can write. I’m pretty. I can make people laugh.

 

But my God, do I hate this time of year.