Isaiah Zeavin-Moss: Imprints of an individual

Tuesday, November 14, 2017 - 2:15am

Last week, I got my ear pierced. I had wanted to do it for several days before, to change up my look — to try something new. There was, in other words, no larger, existential reasoning behind this desire, no deeper truth I thought a piercing would illuminate or help me enact.

But I was wrong. In the ensuing days, I’ve begun to regard my piercing as a sort of imprint on my own body. I’d never physically changed myself in such a permanent way before. After haircuts, sometimes I’d feel like a new person, walking down the street with a new swagger — or, if things went badly, with a new necessity to hide my face. But regardless, hair would always grow back and take its same afro-like shape that is a consequence, I am told, of my Jewish heritage.

I see myself in the mirror now and I see a body on which I have made my own imprint. I was given my body and the life that accompanies it by some existential level of chance, seed and egg meeting and floating off together. But now, my body has become my own. And I love this feeling, that there are ways to increase the amount of control I have over my life. That I can become more myself, more in touch with my own predilections and identities, and that as I do this, I get to better know myself through spontaneous, everyday actions. It did not require some profound shift in my everyday habits to feel this way.

I feel ready to find more ways to manufacture this feeling. To own my own life, in other words. To seek out instances in which my life can become more my own, not just the predetermined default setting that was given to me by incomprehensible coincidences that I did nothing to bring about.

And in the days since I got my piercing, this feeling has manifested itself in other ways. I have begun to write a play, which I hope can be performed in Ann Arbor at the end of next term, when I will also be graduating. In the play, I see an opportunity for a text that I can forever look back on and say, I wrote that there, during that time. A text that represents my time at the University of Michigan.

I am studying abroad this semester, but before I came here, I had planned to write a traditional thesis — a research essay guided by a set of research questions. But it has been extremely difficult to get in touch with advisers back in Ann Arbor and to establish the necessary consistent connection to help overcome this distance between me and familiar libraries, professors and resources. Too much work, I thought. Not worth it, since it will distract from my ability to be here. A feeling — probably overstated — that these advisers are too busy, or, at worst, that they do not actually care enough about my academic work to engage with me, unless I am in their office in person.

But the play I have now decided to write demonstrates my taking this wish to work into my own hands. To occupy the space, left vacant by both the silence from my advisers and the physical distance between me and Ann Arbor, in creative ways that speak to my own individuality.

I think this notion lies at the center of what we call “growing up.” That I, as a child, was cradled and nourished and supported by my upbringing — my family and friends whom I love dearly. That these relationships made me entirely dependent on these people, on these systems of familiarity and comfort.

And these people and systems are not constant. For example, Louis C.K., a person whom I have described to dozens of friends throughout my childhood as the figure whose life I would like to most closely emulate, has just been exposed as a sexual predator, creep and liar. 

C.K.’s standup routines and his Emmy-winning TV show portray a certain honest humanity that I always found powerfully endearing and refreshing: a messy, smelly, morally ambiguous portrayal of human life that I often felt reflected my own everyday experience grappling with my own insecurities and incapabilities.

But C.K.’s honesty, as it turns out, was merely a mask for his systematic manipulation and deceit of the women he assaulted. As he told stories of his own masturbatory fantasies onstage, to an audience of millions, we can only now begin to understand the ways in which these fantasies manifested themselves. It is sickening to imagine C.K.’s personal fetish being fulfilled by his unknowing, relentlessly laughing audience.

The social death of this personal hero provides an opportunity for me to emerge more singularly myself. It allows me to define my own desires and values, and not rely upon somebody else, who, as it has turned out, I did not know at all. 

And of course, I’m still more dependent on my upbringing than the vast majority of people have the privilege to be. My family allows me to explore all my interests. They fund my education, for which I am endlessly grateful. My friends, many of whom I have known my entire life, know me better than I know myself. And they can provide me with indispensable reminders of encouragement and love.

But this increasing sentiment of self-ownership shifts how I understand my background. I want to approach it as a springboard to leap into the world, to treat the people and the world that raised me as safety nets to fall back on if and when the world treats me, as my academic advisers did, with silence; to trust in the power of this love; to know that it exists, regardless of physical distance; and to use this trust as a tool for empowerment, to ignite my transformation into an individual who continues to make imprints — both physical and intellectual — on my own life.

Isaiah Zeavin-Moss can be reached at izeavinm@umich.edu.