birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Their Cool Factor and My 2x4

I think it all started when I immigrated to the United States as a seven-year-old. I always felt a step or two behind, not clued it. It became really obvious really fast that this was not the way to be in the world, not if you wanted to get through the day without being laughed at or humiliated. So I learned to fake it. Mac and cheese? Uh, Krafts IS the best! Romance novels? So gross! But, yeah, my mom reads them too. I could fall into step in any conversation and act like I’d been there, done that. Eventually, I would secretly figure out what the hell everyone was talking about, whether it was by picking up enough of the context in the conversation or secretly on my own, after begging my mom to grab a box of Krafts macaroni and cheese at the market.

I depended on this skill less and less as I grew more accustomed to living as an American and as I grew more comfortable in my own skin. The skill is no longer a necessity but it does come in handy sometimes. One time in college, it …

I became an art major because I loved drawing. I didn’t realize you also had to have an edgy, cool factor and love thrifting. I immediately felt a few steps behind, and I was definitely not clued in. The kind of cool that the art kids had was positively stratospheric. It left the cool factor that the popular kids at my square, suburban high school in the dust. And that was just the freshmen kids. The upper classmen and the grad students were otherworldly. I wanted to blend into the background while quietly absorbing all the coolness.

One day in the sculpture lab, I decided to try my hand at woodcarving. No one was interested in this, and hadn’t been in some time, so the tools were collecting dust in a forgotten corner of the lab. Now, you have to have a special kind of soft wood to carve. I only had regular 2x4s you get from Home Depot. The lab tech told me I needed to be careful. I nodded and got to work while a group of grad students hung out, casually draping their lanky, I-rolled-out-of-bed-like-this chic frames over chairs and workbenches.

The 2x4 really was pretty tough to carve. Each time, I would position the carver at the tip of the wood and then press down as hard as I could. I was doing a decent job rounding off the edges, at least. I propped the carver at the top of the piece of wood one more time and pushed. This time, I pushed it right into my thumb. I felt shock spread over my body. I knew something terrible had just happened. But I didn’t want to make a scene. I decided to play it cool. I thought, I’ll just put pressure on my thumb and keep carving. But, no. Blood started gushing all over the still-rectangular 2x4 and was turning it crimson. I was completely embarrassed and my main focus was not attracting attention. I ran into the lab tech’s office and found the first aid kit. I tried to wrap a band-aid around the thumb but it was a joke. There was way too much blood. In the end, I got the biggest wad of paper towel I could and wrapped it around my thumb. I put the carving kit away and hid the bloody 2x4 in my work area. The grad students were still chatting away, oblivious to my little disaster. I am sure they were talking about something impossibly cool and smart and profound and fun as I faked normalcy and remained invisible.

R$

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