White Noise

My brother is staring at me from the bulletin board on the back of my desk. There are dead tulips crunching against his face, jutting out of their cracked plate of a vase. The gentle hum of my humidifier vibrates my large desk, but fails to overpower the echoing BANG BANG BANG of the construction two blocks away. I hear it. The distant echo of a consistent POUND POUND POUND. I hear it; two blocks away. Even here, I hear it. The tell-tale heart of campus.

Here, there are no ticking clocks. Just the instant flip click of central air and faint pulsation of energy in my dorm refrigerator which, let’s face it, is equal to half of my closet’s square cubage. I hear the snap of water droplets; I hear them quivering, rippling, freezing.

Melting is temperate; freezing makes me think of soap bubbles in Alaska. An ex once told me of his Alaskan “mud room,” where he and his brother would gently loft bubbles and watch the crystals grow and multiply—much like the cells of a fertilized egg, I imagine. Splitting and dividing and multiplying and creating, the crystals of the bubble would solidify and splinter into infinitesimal slivers.

I can picture it happening, but only in slow-mo. Real-time can’t justify what the mind senses or how the esoteric brain reacts. Real-time does not support Ambrose Bierce’s stream of consciousness ... or the hearing capabilities I have during Stage Makeup, apparently.

My instructor, a graduate student focusing on costume design, is painting a young woman’s face. She, the model, remains still and poised, blue eyes wide and fiery hair pulled back. Her porcelain skin is gradually covered with densely pigmented emerald green. When finished, my instructor will present her as a villain from Aquaman. The process is slow; my instructor tediously outlines dark edges. As he dusts powder across her cheeks, I hear it.

It is not the constant BANG BANG BANG of construction.

No.

It is the conversations. I don’t hear words, just noise. Each .2934752346 of a second I listen, the noise gets louder; I feel the echoing vocalizations rumble in my chest. My head slams back against the wall I am leaning on. Why aren’t there clocks? The ticking would be constant; it wouldn’t get louder like these voices. Here, there is no white noise. Only voices rising like radio static over a dead world threatened by an airborne toxic event.

How does one describe the speed of sound?

I marked page 186 in Tinkers with a photo of my mom and I. I assume that my grandmother took it, as there are three words, At The Orchard, sprinkled on the back in her handwriting. I was two, I believe. My mom was kneeling on the ground behind me; her left hand snaked around my small midsection. Even then, I was lanky. Anyway, the photo, I assume, marks a passage. I believe it marks a stream-of-consciousness, one involving ticking and clocks and memories and death and building and clicking—exactly what I am trying to describe in a much more beautiful way.

That’s where Paul Harding and Annie Proulx win.

And Don DeLillo and Ambrose Bierce.

I am defeated.

I am left without words, without proper description; I am in a room that resounds construction, and whose white noise—the snapping of water molecules and the hum of a humidifier—has no symbolism.

All I Can Do Is Keep Breathing

Recently, I received an email from a staff member here at Purdue informing me that I was named the 2011 Outstanding Senior in English Literature here at Purdue. I was completely baffled; of all the worthy candidates, faculty members thought I deserved the title? I am still surprised, and was even more surprised to see a member of the department stand up today and speak about my application to a group of people (most of whom I didn't know). I felt grateful for her words, and am still stunned that various individuals deemed me credible.

For this award, it was required of me to fill out an application (which I submitted approximately a month ago). The application consisted of questions revolving around my activities at Purdue, classes taken and grades received, plans after graduation, and the like. The last question on the application was, of course, this stereotypical and unsurprising question: Describe, for the selection committee, why you believe you would be an excellent choice for outstanding senior in English.

The following text is my response.


At the age of three, I was taught how to read by my mother, who patiently turned pages of Dr. Seuss rhymes and Berenstain Bears stories. It was then—on the green shag carpet that spread across each room of our old house—that my love of literature began.

At the age of nine, my poetry always had to rhyme, and usually focused around comical characters like talking bananas. In junior high, I had my first poems published in collective anthologies; and, in high school, each of my short stories advanced to the national Scholastic Awards competition.

In junior college, I won the national poetry contest sponsored by Sigma Kappa Delta and started a campus-wide creative writing group. However boastful and seemingly inconsequential these activities may be, they are—to me—representative of the accomplishments I made before I transferred to Purdue.

Unfortunately, my time at Purdue has been limited, and I have had only two years to build an extracurricular foundation while forcing myself—an obsessive-compulsive perfectionist—to maintain my grade point average. In truth, I do not wish to continue to selfishly display achievements, because I feel guilty and undeserving. When I think of all the essay questions I have answered that roughly begin with the words, “Tell us why you think you are [the best],” my posture shrinks and my fingers sputter across the keyboard. Truly, I think, I am no more deserving than another one of my peers who has worked equally as hard during his or her college career. What have I really accomplished?

I look at my meager list of activities that I have participated in during the last two years and wish that I could have done more. Perhaps if I had double-majored, taken honors classes, attended multiple colloquiums, had an internship, minored in Italian, or joined the Outing Club I would have viewed myself as more than an average 22-year-old woman with “only” a 3.89 GPA and “only” three blogs.

However, I can say that, while attending Purdue, I did give my instructors the best I had. I cannot express the gratitude I have to my teachers, who watched me stumble into class, red-eyed and blurry-faced from late nights at The Exponent. Perhaps the reason why my GPA was able to remain stable was because I did not overwhelm myself with outside activities. Instead, I focused on classes and forgot what I truly love to do—read and write for my own satisfaction.

Having been told on more than one occasion that I am a “strong writer” (and my critical self would disagree), I feel that this honor—the recognition of the Outstanding Senior—would eliminate my doubt of possible failure. Furthermore, it would encourage my confidence in what I love—words, stories, and the use of one to convey the other—in whatever location I first settle, be it West Lafayette, Iowa, or Australia.
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