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EE Revision: Putting the "you" in you

saturday's picture

You recall when you first sat down to read Rankine, in the oppressive heat of your unfurnished dorm room, gingerly holding the tome (one that would be returned for a refund after your cheaper copy arrived) as if holding a Fabergé egg, with word weight yet unknown in your fingertips.

You don’t read. Not often, never for pleasure anymore. You’ve learned to adapt over the years in an academic setting, skimming the convoluted texts assigned by teachers, followed by a harried slur of Google searches - “wikipedia” “summary” “outline” “main points” - and it is only then that you can start finding your own clarity. You don’t annotate, rarely take notes, never really learned how to be a student. You came back anyway.

Your mind wanders. An hour passes before you can reign it back in, and a thin sheen of sweat forms a barrier between yourself and the text. You admonish yourself for another few minutes, preparing yourself for the latest uphill battle. You begin.

This is different - for the first time that you can remember in your life, you sit down to read a book and do not divert your attention until it is complete.

The word that sticks in your mind is “you”.


You didn’t know that you had preconceived notions of the second person until they were broken, as your silly prejudices cracked and tore apart, beckoning you to see within. You associate “you” with amateur writing, with those who haven’t mastered true prose, with emptiness.

This “you” is jarring. The emptiness fills you as you take its space, as it forces you into a perspective that is clearly not your own. You are a black child, a woman on a plane, a client outside the door. But you’re NOT. When you slip on someone else’s shoes you’re supposed to walk a mile they say, but you find yourself unable to take a single step.

You aren’t. You can’t be.

Within the pages, you are. It has been deemed so.

You cannot let go of who you were before.

“You” is an invitation, a dissonance. You feel what you know you cannot understand. Peer through these eyes, slip on the veil of another’s double consciousness. Empathy is impossible. How do you feel?


Alongside the “you” that calls you in, there is the “you” that calls you out. It pulls you out, out of the role, out of the ill-fitting shoes and back into your own.

Hey, you –


No, YOU.

You right there. You with the sweating palms and racing mind.

Do you see this?

Do you think you can turn away?

What did you do? What are you doing now?

Who are you?


Fueled by classroom coffee and leaps of faith, you begin to create.

You feel doubt prickling at the corners of your mind. The fabric is cheap, the pen pedestrian. It runs out halfway through, and its second is just different enough a shade for it to be noticeable. The pen slips and skids across the surface, only sometimes leaving behind a recognizable trace of the words you were trying to emulate. It will have to be enough.

You hand-write the words and lines from these scrap paper confessionals, coerced from your peers. You feel that (false? forced? natural?) kinship to words and stories not your own. Some are only a few steps away from being believably penned by your own hand, others are miles apart. But they’re all you now, blending into each other, the border between speakers faint or non-existent.

You find your own words tucked in the middle of the haphazard pile. You discard them.

You pull the shirt over your head with marked, cramping hands. It’s heavier than you last remember. Does ink weigh this much?

You model yourself in your cramped dorm room, an exercise in vanity. The word “appropriation” flickers in your mind. Who are you, wearing their stories as a costume? Who are you to inhabit this space, to claim these stories as “you”? Your baggy t-shirt constricts you. Is this the point? You document the moment, transform your doubts into art, something self-referential. You figure the discomfort means you did something right. All the same, it’s not a moment you wish to stay in.

You hurriedly slip off the shirt again. Blue traces are left on your skin, a story written on the body.

You shower once, twice. They disappear.

Your body will not remember the motions of its hand. Your skin regenerates and will hold no trace of ink or story. These borrowed feelings that fill up your entire being, aching, staining, are nothing more than faint etchings on the cabinet of your heart that will wear away when your own experiences, your own words and secrets, begin to take their rightful place.

You feel more hollow than when you began.


jschlosser's picture

Wow, Riley! This is at turns haunting at other funny at other deeply insightful. I love the combination of "you" writing and the creation of an object; the photographs that interrupt the text (and did you think of actually inserting them among the text itself a la Rankine, I wonder?); the emphasis on this creation as a process of self-discovery and reflection. I want to hear more -- perhaps this points to some way of imagining your research project, either through extending the work with the "you" or by elaborating on this Rankine-esque form.