domingo, 26 de julio de 2009

My name in The New York Times

Así es; sin tener que matar a nadie mi nombre ha salido en el periódico de récord de los Estados Unidos de América, el New York Times. No les cuento cómo llegó a ser lo que hoy es porque el ensayo ya es bastante largo y no quiero que se cansen de leer. Lo que si puedo decir es que no me editaron y me pagaron... poco más se puede pedir!

University of Texas, Austin
An Awful ‘Why?’ Hung Over My Head
Published: July 26, 2009

So the letter came in the mail. I opened it with a feigned nonchalance that nobody bought. That marvelous university, that public Ivy, that Research 1 institution had said yes.

Congrats to me. A mixture of happiness and uncertainty fell through the roof of my head like a hammer. What was I supposed to do now with my fiancée and my two jobs? What about my old car and my friends?

A few weeks went by with incredible speed and I found myself in the airport with a ticket to Austin in my hand, two bags, my laptop and my guitar. At some point I had made the decision without letting me know. My mom wept a bit. My dad was his stoic self. My fiancée would have to stay back; someone was going to have to work while I found a job. I couldn’t stop thinking that you only notice how little you actually own when you put it all in a few suitcases and carry it across the deep blue puddle that separates you from somewhere else.

My new home, which I had only seen online before renting it, was about two miles from campus and a marvel of modern design: creaky old bed, ugly sofa with a funky smell, table with two broken-down chairs, microscopic kitchen, full bathroom, nightstand, peek-in closet and a chest with six drawers (of which only three worked), all within the confines of almost 400 square feet.

The biggest thing in the apartment was a Why? that hung over my head like one of those black clouds you see in cartoons. That first night was spent listening to the cars going by outside my window and the constant sad moan emitted by the elderly refrigerator. I guessed it was hungry. I knew I was.

I got a job as a T.A. for a radio class and took all the required training. It basically boiled down to two things: don’t stab students and try not to date them, either. I was cool with both, although time would show me that the first one was harder to comply with than the second.

I quickly got used to waking up very early and catching a bus with dirty seats and way too many sleepy people inside it. I even got used to the silence and the shared yawns of the commuters. Loneliness came and went like a tide.

The classes I took tried their best to knock me down and I pushed back with my own agenda. I found out that the qualitative thinkers, authors, researchers and theorists I had hated during my previous degree were now something like a shield against the new quantitative stuff they were trying to slam down my throat.

When things got rough, I strummed my guitar. The sounds that came from it were like a balm for my tired brain. When the new information became too much to digest, I reread Foucault and Baudrillard. It helped me feel a tad less lost.

At some point I became very certain I would survive the whole ordeal and would emerge unscathed at the other end.

As a student and as a T.A., I met nice people and people who weren’t very nice at all. Some of the students had interesting stories and incredible dreams to share while others had crazy excuses and stories that I was already tired of hearing. People also started telling me that I didn’t sound like I was from Puerto Rico. I recorded myself and found out that I sound like myself. I tried my best to put a little cadence into my voice to sound more Puerto Rican, but I ended up scaring people because I sounded a lot like Tony Montana.

The semester came and went and a new one appeared just as quickly. I got a paper accepted at a conference and I jumped on a plane and went to Oklahoma to present it. I felt that I was going places until the guy at the front desk told me with stern eyes not to steal the towels.

I fell into the ebb and flow of academic life and even managed to have a few laughs between papers, classes, presentations and my job. At night, I read novels and wrote on a small desk under a picture of Bukowski taped to the wall. Then, on the afternoon of a day that had started as any other, I entered my minuscule apartment and the huge Why? was gone. Instead of that awful presence, a few answers were written on the walls with ink that only I could see. The list went more or less like this:

• Traveling increases your references, your truths, your capacity for understanding and your ability to comprehend others.

• Living alone makes you grow in ways you had never imagined and helps you get to know yourself.

• Making friends and meeting people from all over the world enriches your life, augments your emotional intelligence and makes you see how important it is to turn mere tolerance into a deep, welcoming understanding and acceptance.

• Having an education is something not even your loans can put a price on.

• Saying no to this opportunity would have been something you would have regretted the rest of your life.

As I read the words that weren’t really there, I understood that asking Why? constantly is very important simply because it eventually leads to reasons.

Now I have my reasons; do you have yours?

Gabino Iglesias, University of Texas, Austin, Ph.D. candidate, 2012, journalism

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