I’m writing a long-form narrative piece for another venue this week, and I realized something about writing personal narrative: I do it a LOT, and I think I figured I was going to be done writing it by the time I was fifty.
Clearly I don’t have to rewrite myself all the time. I don’t have to explain myself at great length to my father, for example. When I start to, sometimes, he gives me a resigned expression, as if to remind me that he has been dealing with this for fifty years now, and did I think he was that thick? Even my stepmother, who has only been in my life thirteen years, will occasionally remark, “You don’t have to explain that to me.”
Twelve years at the same college. Twenty-seven years of the same in-laws.
And it isn’t just the length of time, either. It’s the classification.
I am a demographic.
Advertisers know whereof I shop, and news outlets know what I want to read, and politicians know of what I would like to be reassured.
That’s partly due to the all-knowing entity I call St. OLAP. (Don’t look it up; you won’t find it.) OLAP is an expression, derived from a kind of data query tool, obscure to anyone who didn’t spend a lot of time in data warehousing in the 2000s. I was partly in-the-know because of my husband’s work as VP of Client Data Strategy for major Wall Street firms (until 2008, of course, when it all spilled onto the street and ran with the bulls. Well, really, just that one bull.) OLAP for me is simple shorthand for the complexity of big data gathering, mining, and even governance. The Privacy Act required banks to stop using Social Security numbers and to protect client data. The Patriot Act said…and keep doing that, UNTIL and UNLESS we might need that data to find nefarious activity. A juggling act, certainly. (They should have passed a third bill and called it The Juggling Act. I’m gonna call Dodd and Frank.)
Anyway, whenever I think about the boxes to be checked off, and the categories to which we need to be assigned, I think about the data structure behind them (can we use a Yes/No field for that, or a drop-down list?) And I think about Facebook’s unique response: “It’s complicated.”
They only have that for relationships. I need that for my hair color. (What is IS? What it USED TO BE? What it APPEARS NOW AFTER DYEING?)
Eyes? It’s complicated. (What do heterochromatics do?) My eyes are too light to be brown, too yellow to be green, too brown to be hazel. I used to wear contact lenses. Even clear ones made my eyes look much more green; something about the light reflecting. My glasses (my bifocals, because I cannot check off ONLY myopia or ONLY presbyopia; do you have a “Can’t see without my glasses” option?) make my eyes look more brown. Driver’s license says brown. Fine, except somebody at the MVC screwed up and put my mother’s picture on my driver’s license.
Do you have children? It’s complicated. I have borne no children; I have not legally adopted or fostered any children. Yet a twenty-two year old lives in my house, because she needed a place to stay and my house was big and lonely after Good Friday. So the answer is no, but then when someone asks me to tell him about myself I find myself saying, “and the kid…”
What do you do for a living? It’s complicated. I get paid to teach two or three classes a semester as an adjunct. OK, so you’re a professor. No, not really. But the college employs you. Yes, part time, but legally when I’m between contracts like in the late summer I don’t actually work for anybody. Oh, so you could apply for unemployment. No, not really, because I am a Senior Adjunct and I get certain preferences in my scheduling. Oh, so you’re guaranteed you’re going to work next semester. Well, yes and no. And then there’s the problem that I do stuff I don’t get paid for because it’s necessary for the next semester, or because the students need it or even because I want to do it, and I don’t really mind not getting paid except that apparently it isn’t entirely legal for a public college to make me do work I’m not getting paid for, even if I said it was OK, and…
My God, do you have a job or not???
Just put yes. Well, part-time.
Are you receiving any income from your late husband’s estate or pensions?
Yes. And no. It’s there, but it’s being held until he would have been 65, and since I was under fifty when he died I couldn’t take it without tax penalty so while it’s technically earning dividends I can’t use them without…
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADDITIONAL INCOME???
Just put no. Well…No, just put no.
Do you own or rent your home?
OH MY GOD.
My name is on the deed. The mortgage, however…
Tell us about yourself. Are you happy? Are you in love? Do you consider yourself an optimist?
Yes. And no.
Where would you like to be in five years?
Ten years earlier.
Tell us about yourself. Political? Religious? Do you believe in God? Do you love America? Coke or Pepsi?
Let’s try an easy one. What’s your name?