The Trash We Tell Ourselves

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My most recent study site.

A funny thing happened today. I was flipping through the Bryn Mawr Alumnae Bulletin (Vol. 97, no. 4), scanning for names I recognized (as one does with such things), when I came upon an article called “Talking Trash.” Of course, a title like that caught my attention, and the first sentence was even better: “In Astrid Lindenlauf’s Archeology, Anthropology, and Sociology of Rubbish class, students are examining a rich trove of ritually deposited archaeological finds – votive offerings to the Goddess Athena.” A class about rubbish? Why did I ever abandon my graduate studies thinking that there would be no job at the end of them?!

The article proceeded to detail how Ms. Lindenlauf’s students are researching the various items that Bryn Mawr College students leave at the statue of Athena in Thomas Great Hall, a long-standing tradition particularly observed during exams. As a graduate student, I wasn’t as much a part of such rituals. Having been educated entirely by the public school system through college, I was, in fact, a little jealous of such traditions, obscured, as they seemed, by the curtains of privilege.

Often I felt at a loss in the private school setting, perhaps even doubly so in the classics department. During my first year in college (at the very public University of Maryland Baltimore County), I had a professor pull me aside to remark on how well-written a paper of mine was and to ask which school I had attended. When I answered Frederick High, she looked a bit stymied and asked, “Is that a public school?” I shared this story with my 12th grade English teacher during the following break, expecting her to take it as a compliment to herself, but instead she got angry. “Why shouldn’t a public school be as good as a private one?” she asked. I saw her point and tried to remind myself of it whenever I felt a bit smaller answering questions about my background in graduate school. No, my father wasn’t a professor or doctor or lawyer. No, I didn’t have the money to do that (fill-in-the-blank). No, I have no idea who that person is. It is difficult, though, for a girl who often feels like she has somehow fooled everybody into believing that she is smart and capable, to thoroughly shake the feeling of not belonging.

Somehow, though, I find myself and my ideas reflected in the pages of this austere institution’s alumnae bulletin. I fight against the notion, but did I really always belong? Do I still? Are my ideas worthy? Strange how a little article can arouse such memories and doubts.  Not so strange how much those memories and doubts can hold you back and even stun you into immobility. I have so many stories and ideas that I haven’t shared because I’ve been fearful that they aren’t good enough. Certainly in some cases it’s true, but all of them? It’s still a hard thing to click “publish” every day that I write this blog. The fear and doubt don’t go away. But I’m doing my best to ignore them.

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