Tuesday, April 9, 2013

"My mom is a tired hooker."

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Tales from a Tired Hooker

My mom is a tired hooker.

By now it’s pretty obvious. Basically everyone knows. In fact, she wears the status of her hookerdom proudly on her sleeve—or, more accurately, appropriately, and inappropriately in so many ways, on her chest.  My mom’s new favorite graphic t-shirt, which she wears often and in daylight hours, reads “TIRED HOOKER” in big, bold, shiny, gold letters against a dark black background.

I only found out about this shirt’s unfortunate existence via a picture message from my mom last month. She spent real money on it at  a Kathy Griffin stand-up comedy show. In the photo, my mom is wearing her new shirt next to a girlfriend. It is dark and blurry, and the flash lights only a few things in the frame—my mom’s eyes, a little dust in the lens on the top-right hand corner, and the reflective letters that scream “TIRE HOOK.” Her hands, arm, neck, the “D” “E,” and “R” of the shirt, and even her smile seem to fade into the dark haze. I’ve stared at the picture a good amount. It’s made me realize two things about my mom and myself: 1. Somehow, even when I move 2,615 miles away, she can find a way to embarrass me. 2. She has a more sensible grip on life than I and many other Harvard students do—she knows how to be shamelessly happy.

As a side hustle, my mom works as an English professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She worked hard to graduate college. Then she worked hard to earn a Ph.D. Then she worked hard to become an assistant professor. Then she worked hard to get tenure to become an associate professor. And after a lot of years of working hard (“hard” not in the hooker sense), she became a full professor just a year ago. Now she clocks in for her four-hour workday a blistering two days a week. The rest of the time she writes articles, lounges, hangs out with friends, watches the sunset, calls me randomly whenever I’m in the middle of writing a paper due in two hours, and goes to Kathy Griffin shows to purchase vulgar shirts.

After many long nights of writing in lamplight while eating microwave mac and cheese on a budget, she got her dream job. And as my deadlines piled up, my classmates became more motivated, and I got more obsessed with succeeding during my freshman year, I envisioned my mom back at home, lounging. It was frustrating. She had built a career and now seemed like she was wasting it, meaninglessly, while I was struggling to envision and start mine.
But then I went home for spring break. For a week, my normal deadlines and schoolwork were gone. I took long walks, staring at the sun-drenched roads, trees, and hills of southern California. Right after midterms had passed, I had the luxury of just thinking about what I was doing with my time, why time even existed, and why our society is so averse to nose picking (it’s just another form of self-cleansing, right?). Stepping away from the day-in-day-out grind, I could take a breath and reorient myself to my goals, my writing, and my schoolwork. And after these walks, I came home to my mom lying down, grading papers, exercising, or just pondering. She looked happy. And we’d have long conversations about nothing.

This break, I finally got it. I figured out the secret of the tired hooker’s trade—doing things is meaningless and fruitless without reflection. I’ve been burnt out this semester, chugging through problem sets and deadlines to seemingly no end. It’s the same with many Harvard students. Many other Crimson articles are about stress, study habits, and work at Harvard. Business is the most frequent topic of conversation among students. Concerns about mental health on campus continually grow as more students become affected by the stress bred by their work.

What the tired hooker taught me is that there is not one fix to the problem. Fighting stress and worry is not simply a matter of lessening workloads, spending more time with friends, or becoming more efficient. But one can take as much time as necessary to reflect. Thinking about what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and where you’re going gives purpose and guidance to work. No matter what, I will still have those 4 a.m. nights at Lamont, stressfully cramming before a midterm and posting many Facebook statuses about how much I hate Lamont and how much I hate Facebook for distracting me. But I’ll never forget to walk around, have an existential crisis, or lie down, with my head facing the sun, staring through my bright red eyelids, thinking about why I do what I do every once in a while.

Because on some days, I, too, feel like a tired hooker. Being young and restless and worried, I get fed up. I put on a face. I socialize. And I work to no end. But on those days, I look at that photo of my mom, lit-up, happy, and free.

Dashiell F. Young-Saver ’16, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Grays Hall.


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