I generally steer clear of self-commentary, especially given the writing dictations of my particular field--after all, we can’t have everyone spilling themselves like maple syrup into half-fried thoughts on social issues.You get a pancake that's all sweetness and no substance. It just falls apart when you poke it.
When someone asks you about your background, what do you say? I try to avoid heavily connoted words like “homeschooler” or “conservative.” These end up blocking any further understanding of my identity, as the inquirer drives along road blocks, not looking for a way around, but just to see how far the barrier goes and if it gets any taller.
So what other words do I have? Do I tell them I’m “alternatively educated” (a term actually found in some county educational paperwork), and that I’m individualistic and hold “traditional values”? The first term is an obvious euphemism, and the others are still more empty clichés than descriptions. Actually, (I hope this doesn’t make me a frustrating personality) I’ve found that unusual statements like “I didn’t go to school until I was sixteen” or “I wouldn’t know; I’ve never been to high school” prick curiosity, and suddenly they’re more easily guided down a more narrow path to identity. Of course, they can’t resist detours into questions like “did you do school in your pajamas?” and, “so how did you get any friends?” or even, “So, like, your mom was your teacher?” to which I politely respond “no, I got dressed like any other kid; I belonged to a co-op as well as a church, and I Bible-quizzed, so I got to meet people from around the state, and I rode horses (with other people); no, not since I was in like 5th grade. I pretty much taught myself what I didn’t
learn at co-op.”
Of course, the biggest ditch is the religious affiliation. Church. Bible. These words are somehow louder than the rest of my explanation. (Actually, my roommate, whom I am quite fond of, asked me concernedly if I was homophobic, because, she explains, she has gay friends. I was slightly offended, and said Christianity is about loving people, not condemning them.) “Oh, so you’re like, a Christian?” They ask as if it’s already affirmed. I half-smile. “Yep,” I reply, although I have to admit that sometimes I feel reluctance as almost palpable in my throat, particularly at the University. There seems to be this idea permeating nearly every mind on campus that if you’re a Christian, you’re a whole bunch of other (negative) things, too. I can almost see connections forming through their eyes, just before they say something to the extent of, “Oh, so that’s why you were homeschooled?” I let out a slight sigh; I generally don’t want to launch into this discussion, especially if I’m on my way to class or work. Or I’m really hungry.
But of course, I usually bite anyway, “No,” I reply hesitantly, shifting my backpack, “my parents decided that homeschooling was the best way to let us learn how to think for ourselves and be responsible for our own learning; how to think, not what to think. Plus it allowed me to spend more time with my parents, and to work at my own pace,” I say, but then tag on hastily, “No, I don’t regret being homeschooled. It was awesome, and hey, I think I turned out pretty well.” I bow my head a little, as if evaluating myself from toe to head, from my “normal” shoes (not rubber boots or 90s tennis shoes) to my “normal” (not jean skirt and baggy shirt) clothes, to my “normal” (not long enough to sit on) hair. Bravely, I make sure my left hand is visible, with that suspiciously sparkly band on my ring finger.
Eyebrows are raised, even if maybe I’m just imagining it. This visual seems acceptable, although still, in the mind, a not fully process-able walking contradiction. I inform them that I was a Running Start student, so that was kind of like junior and senior year of high school—a desperate attempt to relate, I know.
Unfortunately, the other lane of the road to identity isn’t much better. A Christian friend of my father-in-law asks my major; I tell him Anthropology; he promptly asks if that isn’t the study of how we came from monkeys. I curtly reply that I’m not in biological anthropology, but sociocultural. Monkeys usually don’t enter the discussion.
It almost goes without saying that gay rights and creation vs. evolution are the two most irksome and redundant conversations for a walking contradiction like me. It seems like the questions press in from all sides, even if only indirectly to my particular public, as rhetorical “gotcha” questions reaching out from the screen to grab me by the ears. The mainstream media is sure to turn my hair gray. I have my own (I call it nuanced, others may call it flaking) opinions and approaches to the discussions, which I usually confine to the living room setting after dinner, preferably very late, and with beer. And maybe some pancakes.
You might find a few of these candid commentaries on my blog; ironically, it's the most public medium in which I've written. I sincerely hope this candor does more to draw people into discussion than it does to turn them away in disapproval. Most professors never know about me, personally, for a reason--I hope here in cyberspace that that reason is not quite so prevalent, and that people enjoy hearty pancakes that aren't quite so syrupy sweet.