I got into one of those conversations the other day. You know, the one where you’re backed into a corner, forced to sputter through all your earthly accomplishments at the behest of a stranger, acquaintance, or someone you will most likely never see or speak to again?
The conversation where you reluctantly end up explaining how your student loans were approaching the size of Kilimanjaro and you had no choice but to transfer to the state school?
Yeah, that one.
I grew up, well, economically challenged. My family lived in a two-bedroom apartment in the city, with no shower and no cable. Our downstairs neighbors were an endless parade of what appeared to be failed social experiments – roommates who were sleeping with the same guy, a petite woman who wore a curly brown wig, and her wiry husband who drank Red, White, and Blue beer in his van every night until he passed out, a tiny Dominican man, his very large wife, and their four children, and a couple from the South who I’m pretty sure had cockroaches.
For all intents and purposes, life was okay. I very rarely had brand-name clothes unless I lodged a hunger strike for them, and when I got my license, I drove a red Tercel with a bent frame.
Despite all this glamour, I was lucky enough to attend magnet schools with the most diverse, intelligent, and grounded individuals I have ever known or will again. This is what saved me, fed my brain, exposed me to the beauty of this world, and gave me the foundation I needed to move forward.
Now back to that conversation. There’s nothing less poetic than running down a list of accolades, abbreviations, and affiliations. You see, as banal and pretentious as it sounds, it’s also self-aggrandizing. Such declarations are important to people dazzled by names and reputations, sequins and glitter, and have little cognitive space for anything else.
Pained and frustrated, I answered the questions anyway. I am often inspired to talk about my three semesters abroad, how I read Chaucer on the banks of the Seine, or my biannual trips to Vail. I am tempted to wistfully recall Holly, my Palomino, and all the sun-drenched mornings we spent brushing her mane in preparation for our riding exhibitions. I resist the urge to playfully recount the time Ursula, our well-meaning but butterfingered maid, spilled Beluga caviar all over my Dior dress.
Instead, I tell the truth.
“Oh. You got your Bachelor’s and your Master’s there?”
Yes, sir. I surely did. And if I eat all my porridge, they’re gonna let me have seconds!
I live in a place where old money, new money, and no money occupy the same 1214 square miles, where the opulence of gilded-age mansions rolls smoothly into subsidized housing, where historic homes intersect the church that feeds the homeless at five every night.
I went to school in the city and graduated from a state college, not once, but *gasp* twice. And I’m literate to boot.
So I learned and grew, in that apartment with the screaming, mint green radiators. And I took baths instead of showers. And I transferred out of the college with the stellar reputation, despite my 3.67 GPA, because my student loans were approaching the cost of a three-bedroom house. And I traveled between school and part-time jobs in cars with no heat, in cars that leaked oil, in whatever would run. And I worked really hard. And I succeeded.
And that’s all you need to know.
So put that in your pipe and smoke it. I’ll even call Jeeves over to light it for you.