The first time I questioned the validity of my column

First Timers

This week, I need to take a step back and have some real talk. You are going to think that this is touchy feely, but I am writing for an audience of two — two very important people who have known me for a good, long time.

I am writing from a place of utmost respect for differing opinions, but you need to hear mine. You may think that this is passive aggressive or intimate, but I feel the need to explain. I write honest articles. This is not an apology.

If you Google my name, you will find vulgarity, queerness and a description of my body.

Last week, I wrote a very frank account of my academic failure. So now, when you type my name into any search bar, you will find a pretty queer and fairly disabled vagina toting an openly unsatisfactory transcript, attached to a mugshot of my face.

This is one aspect of my personhood. Identity is multifaceted, and my experiences run deep. My articles are by no means all-encompassing. In real life, I have a body attached to my mugshot. Like every other person, I am complex. The Internet isn’t entitled to all the details.

One of my friends is convinced that I will never find a job. Or get into graduate school. Or pass a background check.

On Friday, this friend called me and accused me of self-sabotage. She asked me why I wrote about academic failure. She asked me to retract it. She asked me why I didn’t care.

I crawled onto my couch and hugged a flattened, rainbow cushion. I called my cousin and cried into the receiver for 13 minutes.

Then I drank some honey-vanilla chamomile tea, played a board game with my roommates and got over it. If I am going to own anything, I will own up to myself.

I have been writing at least one article a week since January. If you do the arithmetic, that is about 17,850 very personal words that are on the Internet — maybe a little less, but probably a lot more.

I can deal with hate mail. I can confront contentious emails from strangers and antagonizing anonymous comments at the bottom of my articles — the comments that I continually tell myself I will not read because sentences from strangers who don’t have the gumption to attach their full names to their words don’t deserve my time.

The people in the comments are talking to themselves when they tell me that I should apply my time to something else, that my articles are pointless and lack purpose and focus, and that maybe my spot at UC Berkeley should be handed over to someone more deserving. The worst comments get flagged and eventually removed. Even after the comment section is purged of the filth, the sting still remains. I tell myself not to read the comments, and I always read the comments.

I write to process my time as a student and to document experiences. My writing is purposeful and intentional. I have made a handful of mistakes, but choosing to be honest on the Internet was not one of them.

It is important to write honest articles because doing so makes people less alone. Our 20s can be a very alienating time, full of tumultuous life experiences and arbitrary expectations. I write because it keeps me anchored. As we graduate from teendom and are catapulted into adulthood, we are supposed to have a clearly defined direction, complete with three back-up plans and an emergency evacuation procedure.

The second decade is when all of your childhood expectations of becoming an astronaut and a urologist and a marine biologist come to a head and either rupture or simply fade. When I was 9, I wanted to be a pediatrician. My plans changed, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a direction.

I write frank articles because it is ridiculous to pretend as though I have it all together. I write because I shouldn’t have to apologize for my experiences.

I write some straightforward articles — that are anything but straight — because I am not ashamed. I do not want to hide any part of myself, be it my sexuality or my ability status.

My friend called this oversharing. She said it would bite me in the ass in 40 years. But see, here’s the thing: I wouldn’t want to work for a company or in a field that doesn’t want to hire me because I was frank about my identity.

I publish purposefully, I edit carefully, and I appreciate the power of words. Some critics cringe at my vulgarity.

Perhaps I am shortsighted. Maybe I can’t see the whole picture because I am blinded by youth and optimism, and I’ve never faxed a resume. Maybe I need to put up some boundaries.

Or perhaps I need to keep knocking them down.

Jasmine Leiser writes the Thursday column on lessons learned from first-time experiences. You can contact her at [email protected].

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