NON-FICTION
Naming It: An Essay in Six Parts
Part One: A Name and an Incident
Naima Karczmar

"aaaaand the cable has been cut" by Flickr user Lindsey Turner 

"aaaaand the cable has been cut" by Flickr user Lindsey Turner 

My mother named me after a John Coltrane song, I think to instill blackness in me as if it were some elixir, to be taken once a day before bed, the effects of which would be to prevent the blanket whiteness of Ulster County from bleaching my brain.

There is a building that smells like newness, still, despite the sink in the right-hand bathroom that is coming away from the wall.

The bathroom in that building where the sink is coming away from the wall is usually a safe place to hyperventilate.

That building is uncreatively called Greywood, after its exteriors.

There are some things you should never say to a room full of white people.

My mother, who named me after a song because she believes I spoke to her from the womb, believes also that pyramid shaped rocks will protect her from the electromagnetic waves of the television.

The only time people ever ask if you’re okay is when they’re reasonably convinced that you’re not. I believe that the person who asked me had also said the wrong thing to a room full of white people and knew, therefore, why my hands were shaking.

I wondered, in an abstract sort of way, if anyone had thought to repair the sink. We had a staring contest, me against the crack just above the porcelain. My hands were slippery.

Picturing it breaking, I wondered also if anyone could hear me.

It is said – in therapy and on the internet – that to say something over and over again will help you to sleep and also to breathe

My mother taught me about white people, swore at them when they appeared on the television, readjusted her rock as if it could protect her from them as well as the electromagnetic waves.

The only person who could have heard me talking to the sink moves, usually, like clockwork. I knew her routines because I spent a lot of time in that building, occupied it almost exclusively during the hours between three and four thirty, when she left. I observed that she left but not how she left and so I do not know whether she walks quickly or looks nervous or zips up her jacket on her way out the door. I know only that she leaves by four thirty.

That day, she had not left by four thirty, which made talking to the sink a dangerous activity.

I left before she did, noted that her office door was open, noted also that my face was blank in the mirror. Walked quickly, looked nervous, zipped up my jacket on the way out the door.

Ran into a group of authority figures, was asked, predictably, if I was okay.

CONCLUSION: The only thing more obtrusive than otherness is announcing it. 


Naima Karczmar is a biracial, semi-youthful, fairly gay student living and writing in Portland Oregon with the help of two cats and a fabulous mentor. She writes a lot about being biracial, semi-youthful, and fairly gay, though not always at the same time. She also writes the kind of fiction she wants to read.