Olivia Gatwood is my favorite slam poet — and probably the only one I can name who doesn’t attend Princeton. My favorite poem of hers is “Alternate Universe in Which I Am Unfazed by the Men Who Do Not Love Me.” In the last line, Gatwood sums up her experience in this alternate universe: “I have so much beautiful time.”
Instead of, say, asking all her friends for advice or writing a self essay about it at three in the morning, alt-universe-Gatwood handles nonreciprocal and unresponsive lovers like this: “While the boy isn’t calling back, I learn carpentry, build a desk, write a book at the desk. I taught myself to come from counting ceiling tiles.”
And, yeah, there is a boy who isn’t texting me back. But that’s not all by which I am fazed. It never is.
Other people who do not love me
If you look up this poem, you’ll find it transcribed on genius.com, which is generally reliable. But Genius will really disappoint you if you’re looking for “Alternate Universe in Which I Am Unfazed by the Men Who Do Not Love Me.” (And aren’t we all looking for that universe?) The Genius transcription ends with a horrible mistake. It reads, “I have some much beautiful time.” But, you know, I think it still captures the spirit.
In an alternate universe in which I am unfazed by the men who do not love me, I’d like to think I am also unfazed by someone, even myself, making a public grammar-related oversight. In that universe, I am also unfazed by the professors who would leave a passive-aggressive Canvas submission comment if I left that line in an essay. In that universe, I am unfazed by the professors who do indeed leave passive-aggressive Canvas submission comments when I submit midterms not up to either of our standards because I’d been sleeping through the afternoon all week. In that universe, I am unfazed by the professors who do not love me, by the administrators who claim to love me but don’t, or by my friends who do the same.
Learning how to love
Weeks ago, a friend was reflecting on the treatment of the character Eric Effiong in the Netflix original “Sex Education” and said, “Black queer men deserve more than men who do not know how to love them.” Later, as they wallowed in relationship troubles of their own, I said right back to her, “Black queer women deserve more than women who do not know how to love them.” And last night, as I wallowed in something like relationship troubles, she said to me, “Brown queer women deserve more than men who do not know how to love them.” And it’s true. I deserve more than that. We all do.
The poem “Alternate Universe in Which I am Unfazed by the Men Who Do Not Love Me” appears in Gatwood’s book, New American Best Friend. I bought myself this book some time over the summer, and in September, I gave it to someone who was a dear friend. In the front of the book, I wrote a note that included something like “Thank you for being my New American Best Friend.” But who I thought would be my best friends in September aren’t really my best friends now. That’s just how it goes. I don’t think I know how to love that person, anyways.
But it just so happens that we are all learning how to love. Another friend — I am so grateful for all these friends — says it is silly that people expect thousands of horny adolescents with no adult social skills to get along for four-plus years and earn a degree.
It just so happens that we are all learning how to love each other, so I hesitate to turn on my read receipts or turn off text notifications when I know that — when I don’t really know how to love anyone, either. I just love, and I hope for the best.
Only minutes and so much beautiful time
The other weekend, I attended something like a costume party where I planned to dress as Gatwood. I only had minutes to get ready. I found myself back in my room an hour after the party had already started, after a long, unexpected conversation with a friend — one that we’d both needed. (I like to think Gatwood would be late to a party to make time to talk to a friend, too.) That friend often tells me and others, “Center yourself.”
In the minutes I allowed myself to get into costume, I knew the banal jeans-and-a-flannel would not cut it. As I sent a text that asked How bad is it that I am this late? I thought about that temporal last line of “Alternate Universe.” I eyed the watch that had been sitting on my desk since August, grabbed a bottle of ugly green chrome nail polish, and drew an infinity sign over the digital display. Watch on, costume complete.
Days later, I’m still putting on that watch when I get out of bed. I think to myself, I have so much beautiful time, because I am unfazed. And, sometimes, I even believe it.
What we deserve
No one knows how to love at this age, but we all deserve friends and lovers who know how to love us. And the environment we are in — this often-gloomy, often-harsh school — is not a loving place, either. But this does not absolve us of trying to learn. With all our beautiful time, we can ask for what we want, listen to what our friends need, spend time making mistakes and then doing better. Sometimes I wish figuring ourselves out could be painless and quick. But as we say when we create art, it’s all about the process. Deviating from what we sketched out for ourselves and getting messy is just how we create our lives.
Here is more of what Gatwood says she does in the alternate universe, with all her beautiful time: “Left over from the other universe are hours and hours of waiting for him to kiss me, and here, they are just hours. Here, they are a bike ride across Long Island in June. Here, they are a novel read in one sitting. Here, they are arguments about God or a full night’s sleep. Here, I hand an hour to the woman crying outside of the bar. I leave one on my best friend’s front porch, send my mother two in the mail.”
Tonight, I will not have a full night’s sleep. But maybe in the morning I will be unfazed, I will read for pleasure, I will give my mother an hour or two, I will learn carpentry and build a desk and write an essay — one in which I am less fazed than I am in this one — at that desk.
Mollika Jai Singh is a sophomore who grew up in San Diego and is based in Rockville, MD. She loves making friends, reading and writing poetry, and cross-stitching very slowly. At the ‘Prince’, they are a co-Director for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging and an Associate Opinion Editor. To talk anything ‘Prince’-related or otherwise, say hello @mollikajaisingh on social or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Self essays at The Prospect give our writers and guest contributors the opportunity to share their perspectives. This essay reflects the views and lived experiences of the author. If you would like to submit a Self essay, contact us at email@example.com.