Saturday, August 5, 2006

The Blue Star

I'm currently making my way, ever-so-slowly, as is customary, through Kenji Yoshino's Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights. Yoshino is a gay, Japanese-American professor at Yale Law School. I know of him because my firm invited him to deliver a lecture based upon his book. I attended the lecture, and the experience became one of the most inspiring I've had in many years. I hadn't felt so intellectually invigorated since my undergrad days, sitting back and absorbing Professor Solomon's musings on existentialism.

I'll leave the heavy-duty, socio-legal stuff for another day. But here's an excerpt that illustrates Yoshino's ability to awe. It recounts a memory that fluttered through his mind when he attended the wedding of his college girlfriend. After Yoshino came out, he spent some time catching up with her as they re-immersed themselves in their shared love of poetry. At the time, she was about to transition from teaching English to entering medical school. Before making the transition, she decided that she wanted a tattoo of a blue star on her left shoulder blade. "The Blue Star" was the title of one of her favorite poems.

Janet and I fought over the tattoo. I told her that she had misconstrued the nature of time. In thirty years, I said, she would be an entirely different person, but the tattoo would still be there to embarrass her. Who was she, at twenty-four, to bind that future self? Janet responded that I was the one who had misconstrued time. She agreed that over the next years, she would change, that she would have to change. Yet she said if her future self was embarrassed by the star, she wanted it to be embarrassed. She was entering a time in her life when her commitment to poetry would become more endangered than ever, and she wanted to protect that commitment by writing it on her body. If she became a doctor who stopped reading and writing poetry, she wanted to hear the reproach of this younger self. My mistake, she said, was that I assumed people got wiser as they got older.

Reminds me of the days during my second year in college when my Philosophy of Law professor would implore: "Don't become a person ten years from now whom you'd hate right now." (Of course, he was a burnt-out assistant district attorney taking time off to teach.)


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