Senior Retrospective: Kelly Schuster

to-do lists/lovenotes to myself on graduating/growing pains on armpit hair on learning within institutions built upon power on unlearning without them on swallowing water down the wrong tube sort of

a diary entry written in my davison dorm room with two walk-in closets, but no windows-

november 28, 2012 “but it doesn’t come easily–to remind myself to take care, take time, take breath. body hurts and trying to inhale healing air but having enough trouble breathing, something like surviving. trouble keeping head above water. but maybe it’s time to grow some gills–to just accept drowning and that it’s temporary and that I need to just let myself be filled with waves, and trust that I’ll float to the surface soon. kel– stop fighting it, stop thrashing in the undertow.”

I am collecting letters to me and that girl I used to be see: still am unequivocally “joie de vivre” just more… unadulteratedly.

to the girl with the grown-out bob, a strawberry brown after an orange, like actually orange, catastrophe called freshman year:

could you just? take a deep breath? could you please just let the sun set? let the moon take the night shift this time. take a rest, because you are no help to your community if you can’t help yourself.

when you wonder: “where else but Schmasser School of Witchcraft and Misandry can I dance with the fiercest of goddesses whose armpits bloom with hair and whose fingertips tickle the moon?” remember, you find those places. or, with chapped knuckles, you make them.

and when cramped toes well up in blisters of bug bites on sunset hill and you ask “why can’t mosquitoes just play along?”

consider that mosquitoes might be ancestors of stolen land sent back to break the blood of those with limbs built for stealing

and bug-smashing.

consider that your skin itself might be mosquito on this land.

wikipedia claims dutchmen were the first settlers of Poughkeepsie. says they “bought” it.

forgot to mention raped burned buried built over and kept the name.

don’t forget the blood-saturated story of how this land came to “belong” to your pale ancestors, then how it was sustained by slave hands. remember that. and know that this place is, always will be, an institution. the carnage of mortar crammed between brick.

and maybe there’s no such thing as “safe spaces” for everyone. and maybe learning can’t fully happen within a classroom. and maybe learning is what we create to share to survive.

and maybe losing is not the same thing as loss, and maybe growing pains are just blood cells swimming backstroke into new crevices to ignite pockets of gratitude into sore necks and the swollen kidneys that sent you to the hospital the week before your first founder’s day.

gratitude for failure and that fellowship that you didn’t know you didn’t want until you didnt get. gratitude for the women who planted flowerbeds of the holes within you that only he (plural) could drill, that only we could fill, and maybe your garden isn’t about (plural) him anymore.

and maybe the art is not the therapy, and reckoning is a daily process of return and reframe, never done. of making art that heals, not the kind you need healing from.

remember that feeling pain doesn’t mean you haven’t led a charmed life.

consider those whose pain is not prioritized, who may deserve the mic more than you do. who, unlike you, framed by white skin that sits mostly well within the limits of “woman,” are kept on mute.

because the moment you assume that you are not part of the problem, you are the problem. start learning from, with, through absolutely everyone.

to the me with the pixie called relief, the visible ears the visible queer, the learning to love me: stop telling yourself the same story stop calling it drowning just because your heart starts to beat.

because it always grows back, doesn’t it?

in new ways, and unexpected places. but I hope you never get “used to it.”

this place will keep going. and maybe, fingers crossed, the feet on it will start tip-toeing to thank the security guards and cleaners and kitchen staff whose days start before some of us have even slept. and maybe gratitude can stop trashing this campus with beer cans brimming with entitlement. and maybe gratitude can start calling in and calling out, when our voices are too loud or our lips forget to ask.

and maybe our lips can learn to be both critical and caring in the same breath, because maybe mindfulness is feeling every step. knowing the history of this land and what each footstep is complicit in.

so archive everything with blistered heels, knowing that not everything wants to be archived in words. not everything can. don’t dwell in writer’s block– just sink into playdough with ready fingertips call it siap, when the clouds pee and the ground takes a sip, when your eyes leak a bit.

it always grows back, doesn’t it? above brows to keep the sweat out of your eyes, so you can try to see somewhat clearly. so you can remember that cuci means wash mata means eye, and cuci mata is the cleansing of mindsight that only comes with being unsettled or unhome, a surge of tears or a tropical storm.

because even when “goodbye” gets caught like a yawn in a sigh, it feels fucking alive to cry. to invest inhales into full lungs, tarik nafas panjang, sayang, it’s only an end if you make it one.

you can still tap into your second tongue and channel Indonesian when English starts to dissolve. selamat jalan, for happy traveling, selamat tinggal, for happy staying, and sampai jumpa, for not goodbye but, until soon.

you need not know all of the cosmic reasons that you’re here, or the tangible answers to “where are you from?” but remembering that whiteness is both the mosquito and the pesticide,  you weave your capillaries with new roots in old dirt.

and maybe you don’t have to drown first, to learn to freestyle. maybe it’s just a lot of doggy paddle and blowing bubbles and making friends like water wings. to these fingertips that grip the edge of the kiddy pool before that pixie cut and 5 feet 3 and a half inches of wet eyes and puffed chest and cerewet witch dives right in-

I hope you never stop relearning to swim.

—Kelly Schuster is a drama major with a correlate in women’s studies. She has been involved with the queer lady and spoken word communities on campus. She hopes to pursue collaborative art-making as an avenue for social transformation and celebration of difference.

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