May 21, 2017

BANKS | A Mirthful Endeavor, Turned Mellow

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For a while, I tried to convince myself that I was low-key enough to be unfazed by the prospect of writing my final column.

As it turns out, though, I was delusional — in part thanks to my neurotic obsession with amassing words.

After all, the retrospective seemed too ripe, the scope of experience too swollen and the space too meager, for all that I had left to say. I spent several days wondering if I could feign a cool nonchalance towards this whole affair, but I’m finally ready to submit to the truth.

Yes, the cold, bitter truth, which quietly resides in this vanishing specter of a columnist — writing from a present predestined to become the past — wails and pleads for freedom from my mind. This truth is ready, I think, to be interred at last with the decaying corpse of my column’s corpus:

The thought of relinquishing Honest A.B. petrifies me to my core, and the act of doing so has not, in fact, been very easy at all.
Indeed, I could have spent several more weeks frantically deliberating, rewriting, deleting, editing and rewriting again, before finally turning in my piece about a month too late, much to the chagrin and ire of my Associate Editor — or perhaps not, since Jacob Rubashkin has always shown me more grace and generosity than I deserve, even in spite of my absurd tardiness. For by the time he had inherited the unenviable task of wrangling me in, I had already become a senior columnist, emboldened by my status as one of the savvy veterans. So I extend to him my deepest gratitude, for his tremendous, tireless patience, especially since he was baptized in the flames and soaked in the soul of columns cobbled together from the most candid feelings that I’ve ever put to print… so far, at least.

On that note, I feel compelled, like most columnists do upon their impending graduation, to thank The Sun, where the spirit of writing first draped itself over my life during Sophomore year, when I found myself staying up until 4 a.m. writing columns instead of studying for Organic Chemistry. That same year, I told my first A.E., Caroline Flax, that I wanted to publish an unorthodox column in the form of a short story, to which she responded with both geniality and verve. And when I chose to levy a caustic invective against The Sun, setting out to disembowel the newspaper for its racist ass coverage and thoughtless, insensitive gaffes, I couldn’t help but to appreciate how Sloane Grinspoon encouraged me to drop the full weight of my pen’s metaphorical payload on her beloved daily. And after the election, when I became more energized than ever before to speak out against the irrational insanity intrinsic to whiteness — and, more broadly, to resist any and all oppressive ideologies  — it was Paulina who pulled out all the stops in order to squeeze my overstuffed column onto those crisp, grayscale pages.

So while I may have grown somewhat disillusioned with the medium as time has worn on, sensing my future as a novelist hurtling towards me with increasing rapidity, I recognize what this newspaper has been for me: a vital crucible, in which I was empowered  to forge my identity as an artist; an incubator, where my love for language and words could bake in the warmth of experience; and a chrysalis, where that love could crystallize, unperturbed, into an all-consuming passion, so that I might unlock my dreams.

But there’s many more folks to thank beyond The Sun, and while I don’t have space for them all here, I absolutely must take a moment to establish the names of those whose legacies tend to be most often overlooked when we speak of Cornell lore. People like Gloria, who never failed to provide stories, smiles and her grandmotherly aura. Or Audrey, who seemed to facilitate my stressful visits to the Bursar Office with such remarkable ease. There’s Helen, who always took a moment to stop and chat, checking in to see how classes or my day was going, even as she prepared for another frightening foray into my hall’s bathrooms. And I can’t forget Hazel, the mastermind of making me laugh on any given evening. Or what about Patsy, who I maintain should quit her job at the dining hall and become a professional artist, and Dagmar, with whom I always looked forward to exchanging a bit of German on Saturday mornings? Not to mention Bashshar, Tracy, Fong and David, Jansen’s superstar equivalent of The A Team and the purveyors of many things, including but not limited to: great bubble tea/cookie suggestions, boundless patience and stamina, good music, uplifting greetings/smiles, and amusing, lively dialogue.  Finally, I have to express my appreciation for Officer J.H. Haines, who handled a situation involving my drunken friend with grace and aplomb, even as I regarded him with a well-warranted wariness and cynicism.

And, of course, I must take care to reiterate my love for every single black staff member, TCAT bus driver, or Ithacan whom I’ve ever encountered while at Cornell. They have all been radiant and beautiful and necessary, often energizing me with some good old fashioned slang, a curt nod of acknowledgement, a knowing look, or even the yung black discount. If I’m talmbout you, you already know what it is, so ain’ even gotta say no names.

Well, my time has finally come to an end, it would seem. And so my last charge goes out to all those with beating hearts:

I hope you will consume, cultivate and create art, with vigor and passion, whether that be in the form of words, or languages, or songs, or films, or expressions of your identity, or confrontations of cowardice, or rebukes of fear, or long, vulnerable, candid conversations that stretch and swell, meander and grow, dive and leap about. And in those quiet, often cruel moments of the night, during which you lay yourselves bare to this brutal world and all of its harsh truths, remember always that we exist to love. And when we suffer, or cry, or do battle with the darkness that inevitably accompanies the light of life, it is love that will spare us from an eternity of desolation.

And of all the myriad forms that love can take, I do believe that art embodies love at its most voluminous and ravenous, at its most addictive and indispensable. So cherish your art, and clutch it closely to your heart.

And if you are a writer, which we all are in some way or another: don’t worry about what you didn’t write, or even what you did. You will always have the rest of your life to write, and you will only get better; that’s the beauty of writing. You will write what you must write, and if you are not compelled to write about it, then it wasn’t meant to be written.

On that note: God willing, I intend to write a very good book, in at least three languages, before I die — in fact, I have been writing a book in English for some time now. I expect, or rather know, that I will become a great author someday, and so emblazoned into these pages shall be my final egotistical assurance — true to form, and honest as I’m is, one might say.

Call my bluff at your own risk.


Amiri Banks in senior in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]This is the last edition of Honest A.B.