ESSAY
Naming It: An Essay in Six Parts
Part Five: Incidents Relating to High School
Naima Karczmar

A building is guaranteed to be ugly if it is or has ever been a high school.

My name, hyphenated, does not fit on assignment sheets. I learned to apologize to teachers whose tongues stumble over the first, the second, likely to give up before they reach the safety of the last. You don’t have to remember how to pronounce that, spell that, say that. That.

One high school incident consisted of a substitute teacher with liver-spotted skin and a mouth perpetually filled with spit who misheard and insisted on calling me Nemo for two hours. 

Another high school incident consisted of a quiet kind of panic revolving around potential Halloween costumes, of which there were none with my coloring or my particular brand of biracial confusion. 

Another high school incident consisted of an English teacher who recommended to me books about Afghanistan until I told her that I was not in fact Afghani and remembered watching my also-not-Afghani-father play a terrorist on television for the sake of money and for the sake of America’s particular brand of racial confusion.

My favorite color is alizarin crimson, which is the most pretentious thing you can say when people ask.

I discovered that color through an art teacher who said, often, that he and my mother would need to talk, possibly because of the pyramid shaped rocks, likely because of the alcoholism. 
 
That art teacher did not teach except to hand us materials and tell us to use them and so I learned how to paint by making paintings and by asking questions on the rare occasions that I could muster the courage to do so.

Oil paint is difficult to work with because it is composed of substance, unlike other paint, which is composed, primarily, of plastic. It goes on thick and no two brands are alike in color or consistency. You can spend fifty dollars on a decent tube of paint, one where the color is concentrated and comes through so that the painter knows immediately whether she has just opened a tube of cadmium red or scarlet without having to check the label. A good alizarin crimson, incidentally, looks nothing like the swatch on the paint tube.

Paintings are extremely expensive to make: One five pound block of microcrystalline wax comes in yellow or in white, costs thirty dollars or forty. 

My paintings are composed of microcrystalline wax and various shades of red.

In high school, I was taught that white is the wrong color to use for dilution because white is a color unto itself; when you mix white Windsor & Newton into blue Van Gogh, you don’t get lighter blue, you get darker white. It takes a lot of white to lighten black, is usually a waste of paint (grey is more beautiful and easier to achieve with some kind of turpentine based thinner) but it takes very little dark to darken light, and for this reason, I think, my mother looked at me and thought her genes had failed her. 


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. 

Naming It by Naima Karczmar