Maria Shaikh

Do I contradict myself?

Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
—Walt Whitman

Buried in the debris of my Gmail inbox, hibernating like seeds in winter, lay some-odd applications you’ve sent me. For this job and that internship, for such submission and so-and-so extracurricular. Each application has been given a glance-through, the email joining thirty others in the starred folder, and the reminder to fill it out within the next one to three business weeks has been scrawled in some margin of some notebook. Deadlines and due dates busy my calendar apps. Documents of unanswered, copy-pasted interview questions collect dust in the recesses of my Google drive. I click through them, tab after tab of excruciating questions, asking me to describe myself and share an experience that I learned from and show my leadership abilities. I close my laptop. How dare you?

How inhuman, to demand that I explain my world in a “short essay” or “three descriptive words”! Would you task an artist with painting a sunset and only give her red paint and a broad brush? She might get across the main concept, but the intricacies of the forests at the shoreline and the jaggedness of cliffs and clouds, the gold and the purple badly needed and sorely missed, would compromise her. To judge her based on artificial limits you ordained–for what? To commodify her? For ease of comparison, to make easy your criticism, so you can point and laugh and file her work away with similarly red, broad-stroked canvases of sunsets harvested from similarly wingless birds? 

“Tell me about yourself”–a cross-section of my life can’t fit into a Google form. Nothing meaningful is gleaned from scraping the surface of a geode. In a short paragraph, I must lay bare not only my marketable skills but my ancestors, my childhood, my plans and ambitions and follies and worries, the experiences and people that live deeper within me than the calcium in my bones, the stretch of my tendrils across highways and pebbled paths to warm cities and urban snowscapes and golden-spired mosques. How do I tell where I end and someone else begins? I’ve sent pieces of me across oceans in the arms of loved ones, sealed shards of me into envelopes and pressed them like dried flowers into international calls. And I’ve accumulated quite the collection of others’ parts–they speckle my eyelashes and highlight my hair, a thousand pieces from a thousand ceramic bowls glued together. And you seethe when the colors clash?

The bowl’s cobbled out of both blazing orange and neon blue shards, sports floral patterns in some places and Turkish mandalas in others. Break it against the countertop and see the individual shards, a sea of mismatch and contradiction–do you expect otherwise? For me to crack, like a chicken’s egg, and release only a pleasant yellow yolk? So I can be beaten into a cake or an omelet, malleable and yielding the way porcelain isn’t?

Is being contradictory such a crime? I tell people that I don’t listen to rap–except for the albums and songs shown to me by friends and former crushes. My biggest passion lies in the hard sciences–but in the soft ones too, courtesy of middle-school teachers; and it burns just as bright for the humanities, the product of each book I’ve devoured and each writer I’ve loved. I dye my hair to feel more like the person I want to be, yet I treasure my roots growing out because my natural color is a part of that fantasy, too. I’m irritable around and exhausted by other people, yet I need my long list of loved ones close to soften life’s jagged edges. I use many names, many pronouns, many labels–none of which mesh cohesively in any eyes but my own. I want to be an educator and a world-changer and a philanthropic millionaire, and I want no one to know my name besides the mushrooms in the forest. I’ve never agreed with myself once. Can you look in my eyes and profess you’re free from hypocrisy? Are you, too, not an eyesore of a ceramic bowl, an ugly quit made of parts that don’t make sense to anyone but yourself? You don’t get to expect egg-yolk monotony and simplicity from me when you refuse to acknowledge your own clashing patterns. 

Soon, I will fill out those applications with red paint and a broad brush. I’ll show off shards from my bowl that complement each other–perhaps a glossy white one, a light pink one, and one with big roses and swirling vines. You’ll smile at the cohesion,  at how simple and understandable of a human being I am. And you’ll be shocked when you see me with a shard I previously didn’t show you–perhaps a marbled one acting as a necklace pendant, or a sunny yellow one poking out of my pocket, as if you don’t have a million concealed shards of your own.

You know I’m lying to you. You know we both contain multitudes, worlds crashing into incompatible inner worlds. So cut the shit, why don’t you?