“Tell us about yourself in four sentences.”
Impossible, right? I faced this annoyingly trite question on a job application once. You really expect me to reveal who I am in four thought-provoking but comprehensive sentences … so that you can hire me? Sorry I’m not sorry, but I have more to say than that. If I tried to sum up my identity even on one page, words would burst from the page into flames, Fawkes style. You can’t handle my kind of coolness in that short of space.
I’ve learned quite a bit about identity at Duke. Aside from the Crazieness and dedication of tenters, the competitive and cut-throat first-years in an intro Chem class, the invisible but strong hierarchy that greek life creates for Duke sorority sisters and the sheer, ultimate coolness of anyone on DefMo (please teach me how to werk), I’ve learned that we are far more than basketball fans, pre-meds, sorority girls and dancers. We each have more to tell and, not surprisingly, embody experiences and stories that define how we view the world, our relationships with others and our choices.
But sometimes, it’s hard to tell those stories. Sometimes, you’re scared to admit that your meals are getting drastically smaller. Sometimes you can’t find the words to scream out against Asian stereotypes. Sometimes, you can’t bear the thought of telling your best friend of the same sex that you do love her, but in a way that she may never feel back. Maybe you’re not quite ready to share your story, but let me tell you something: People are willing to listen.
“Me Too Monologues” is an annual show that presents true stories about identity—written, performed and produced by Duke students, alumni and faculty. Members of our Duke community submit personal narratives about experiences that have shaped their lives, many of which focus on race, culture, gender, sexuality, class or religion. They are amusing. Heartbreaking. Emotional. Frustrating. Uncomfortable. Relatable. But most importantly, they are Real. They are more than four trite sentences that try to convince other people that you’re something you’re not. They are written by your roommate, the person sitting next to you on the bus, your study buddy and your boyfriend. And the best part? Though these are individuals’ stories (anonymously written), someone in that auditorium will scream “Preach!” in their head as a story unfolds, or openly snap their fingers in agreement. You’ll be sitting in the auditorium, amazed that someone else shares your feelings and experiences.
I am so fortunate to be performing in this year’s monologues, and let me tell you, they will blow you away. This cast has worked extremely hard to bring these stories to life. Though they may not be a perfect recount of an author’s memory, they are graceful, meaningful and worthy of your time.
We tend to embed bits and pieces of our stories in casual conversation, sharing them in the most impersonal of ways. Want to know what I did today? Let me tell you on Facebook in a witty two lines. Oh, let me tweet this article that perfectly encapsulates my views on a political issue. My visit to the inauguration was life changing; here’s a filtered picture on Instagram to prove it.
But what are we trying to prove, and who are we trying to tell? Was that themed party at Shooters really the best time ever? Are you sure you didn’t secretly enjoy your outing to The Bar because you flirted with someone unexpected? We end up putting on contrived faces, in fear that we might reveal too much. You could know everything about someone, and yet know absolutely nothing at all.
Our personal stories are powerful and moving. Hearing them, sharing them and being a part of them changes how we interact with the world around us. It changes how we view important aspects of identity—race, gender, sexuality, religion, class, ethnicity, etc. Common Ground, a retreat sponsored by the Center for Race Relations, also creates a space to reflect on the complexities and nuances of identity through personal experience. Theoretical concepts proposed by Foucault are no doubt valuable, but do they truly get at the heart of the matter?
Whether it’s your first year at Duke or your last semester, go to “Me To Monologues” AND apply for Common Ground, and experience something Real about identity. Sometimes, I think that’s what this campus needs the most.
So write your story. You don’t have to share it right away, or even at all. But sit with it. Engage with your friends, peers and neighbors. Understand that Facebook is a hoax and that not everybody’s life is that glamorous. Work toward living a life that isn’t just four sentences. Write your past stories, but also create new ones to cherish and appreciate. Love them or hate them, but know that they are Real. And they are you. Maybe one day you will share that story and it will not only change your life, but also change someone else’s.
Jaimie Woo is a Trinity senior. Her column runs every other Monday. You can follow her on Twitter @jwoo9913.