Surpassing Certainty (What My Twenties Taught Me): Part 2/ Chapters 9 to 11 – Summary/ Review (with Spoilers)

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Janet Mock: Surpassing Certainty - What My Twenties Taught Me Book Cover

Part 2 begins with Janet alone in New York, a bit frustrated, and maybe overpowered by this feeling of isolation, but what is greatness without a bit of adversity?

Chapter 9: On My Own With No Real Safety Net

It’s August 2005 and 22-year-old Janet has landed in NYC for NYU graduate school. She has her housing setup with two roommates, Safa and Hazel, and even picks up a job. However, being a big girl in a new city, lacking her usual crutch in Troy, makes for a very lonely experience. Especially since, while she picks up an acquaintance here and there, she doesn’t have someone she can truly connect with.

On top of that, while there are Black girls in her graduating class, 5 including her, they are far from close. They respect one another, give acknowledgment, but generally don’t associate. [note]Janet gets her first taste in investigative journalism through talking to this guy Julio. An immigrant who came upon hard times and it helps her understand how systematic oppression works. Also, it opens her eyes to the fact that she is not about doing stuff which isn’t pop culture. [/note][note]Janet found a part time job (30 hours a week) that paid $20 an hour + a 50% employee discount.[/note]

Chapter 10: Don’t Always Trust Preconceived Notions

When it comes to the dynamic in Janet’s new apartment, the Egyptian Safa, who basically set everything up and put a posting for roommates, isn’t that happy both Janet and Hazel pretty much stay to themselves. Yet, with the premiere of Grey’s Anatomy, season 2, comes everyone leaving their holes and coming into the living room. Leading to Janet maybe feeling a little justified in staying by herself. If only because Hazel is rude as hell.

You see, this blonde heffa decides to check if Janet’s breast are real by touching them, without invitation. To give some context, the reason for this is because the ladies are questioning if one of the actresses has real breast or not. Hazel, this New England born girl, decides to check if Janet’s are real because she was curious. Leading to, long story short, a sort of beef beginning between Janet and Hazel. Not because Janet rightfully smacked the mess out of Hazel, but since Hazel’s nature just is like dulled sandpaper to the skin.

But while things were kind of meh at home, Janet did get an internship at Playboy. A place that helps give college credits and pays $10 an hour. Something quite high compared to other internships. On top of that, their interns get actual work experience like organizing archives, transcribing interviews, and assisting in research. Leading Janet to note it was probably one of her most fulfilling professional experiences. [note]Janet turns 23 in this chapter.[/note] [note]Lela, an old friend from the University of Hawaii, takes Janet up on this offer to stay with her in NY. Something Janet never thought Lela would do but she is glad she does. If only because she becomes her first true girlfriend in NY.[/note] [note]Janet’s mom turned 47 in May 2006.[/note]

Chapter 11: Say Hi and Bye To Nolan, And Welcome Janet To Instyle!

As has been established, Janet has never had a problem finding a man. One she could trust, definitely, but for a fling, casual dating, and things like that? No problem. Enter Nolan, her latest boyfriend, who she met in the summer of ’06. He is white, about 6’4, deep dimples, and has green eyes. He is described as modest, well-traveled, and desires to integrate music, particularly hip-hop, into the education of low-income areas. Yet, while he sounds good on paper, Janet chalks him up to be a great boyfriend but not someone who could be the love of her life. So, eventually, she ghosts him.

After all, Janet’s focus right now isn’t love but making sure all this debt she is taking on by going to NYU means something. So she sets her sights on InStyle, gets in, for $7 an hour, and gets to work. [note]The intern program at InStyle was run by a woman named Delores who was one of the few Black people, never mind women, at the magazine. She heavily favored Black interns and that is how Janet’s eventual friend Camille got in. Well, that and Camille’s aunt going to the same church as Delores.[/note][note]Camille is noted to be the type who kind of got disenchanted with the intern life because she felt underutilized. So she came in with comfortable clothes, did not code switch, and seemingly her work effort was, just plain adequate. However, she could do a mean thank you card and Janet notes she could very well be a visionary.[/note]

Question(s) Left Unanswered

  1. How in the world did Janet keep from smacking Hazel so hard they ended up the same skin color?

Highlights

Dates and Ages Being Noted

Giving Things A Chance

Janet at one time may have spoken about maybe being a lawyer and things of that nature, but it seems clear, based off the way she talks about Julio, that it may have been truly a blessing she didn’t go down that road. For, in this rare instance that college shows you what maybe a good or terrible direction in your career, I think she comes to realize she only wants to become so close to her subjects.

Perhaps like people knowing her, but only getting as far as Nolan, she wants to keep things surface level. Maybe dive in a little bit, but never so far where you are submerged. Hence why Julio was her first and last, at the time, deep dive into someone’s life and why she didn’t let Nolan get closer than he did. For while she was willing to give him a chance, and he did nothing wrong, flames of passion weren’t flamed. There wasn’t this desire to adapt and really become what the other person needed.

Which, based on her relationship with Troy, I think her fears, alongside what Anthony did, made it so she just wasn’t ready. That and, as noted throughout the book, Troy set precedents. Of which Nolan might have surpassed in many ways, but being good on paper doesn’t always mean that person is the one.

Looking Out For Our Own

With this idea that, more often than not, Black people often are like crabs in a barrel, meaning they will pull another down in an attempt to get ahead, I love how Janet’s story counteracts this. While not close to her fellow Black women in the NYU graduate program, she notes this positive acknowledgment and some comradery when they share a class together. Delores, who she notes primarily hires Black people, helps foster the idea, and remind the youth, being Pro-Black isn’t a new thing. Nor something that became out of fashion. There are those who, like their white, Jewish, Italian, Latinx, and etc counterparts, who try to make it so the door they found a way through, didn’t close behind them.

Criticism

No Noting of Her Privilege?

In Redefining Realness, Janet was quick to note how her story wasn’t a one size fits all and surely not a norm. It was her story and that’s it. Something I’m surprised she didn’t do here for the idea of getting a $20 an hour job, which she got 30 hours for, alongside internships that paid, does not seem like something you shouldn’t put a prefix or suffix with. For, originally, when writing this recap I had to think, “How in the hell is Janet paying her bills and part of the rent with a part time job and internships?” Forcing me to check how much that part time job paid.

Which, in my mind, afforded her a bit more than the average person. I mean, as clear as day, no one would survive in NYC on a interns salary – even if it was full time and you had roommates. So, I guess the problem here for me is just me comparing how in Redefining Realness she kept it real vs. how in Surpassing Certainty, she lessens the teachable moments and noting her privilege, to almost making it seem she got it like that.

Not to imply anything negative, but Janet does make it seem that between job opportunities and guys, some things kind of came easily to her. Which we know, it probably didn’t, for she had to code switch, probably was nervous as hell, among other things, but she breezes through people and opportunities almost like an entitled white girl sometimes. Just making it seem her life, since she got past the loneliness of New York, was nothing but easy and fabulous. Outside of dealing with Hazel.

Collected Quote(s)

He was kind enough, attractive enough, smart enough, but he never moved me in the way that made me feel obligated to him, that pressured me to be vulnerable. Our exchanges were limited to the kind you’d have with a great boyfriend but not necessarily a great love.
—           “Part 2/ Chapter 11.” Surpassing Certainty


The way he held my eyes sobered me up for a few brief seconds. I gained enough clarity to realize that he saw me. He was not searching for answers. He knew. I did not know what he knew, but I felt seen. It was an intense, intimate, and surprising exchange.
—           “Part 2/ Chapter 10.” Surpassing Certainty


I was built to rely on myself and didn’t know how to ask for help or recognize that I could ask for help.

—           “Part 2/ Chapter 9.” Surpassing Certainty


Bearing witness, rather than seeking answers, filled me.

—           “Part 2/ Chapter 9.” Surpassing Certainty


Pretending felt safest. I believed it was the only way I could make it. So I stripped myself of backstory and connection and flattened myself, distilled myself, made myself smaller and easier to contain and digest. I pretended that color, class, gender, and all the intersections of my identity and experience that othered me did not exist. And the funny thing was that my classmates, roommates, and neighbors were pleased to pretend, too. It made it easier on all of us to believe a post-racial, post-feminist, post-oppression fantasy, especially in a well-intentioned liberal New York City.

—           “Part 2/ Chapter 9.” Surpassing Certainty

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About Amari Sali 3330 Articles
New Jersey native Amari Sali takes the approach of more so being a media advisor than a critic to sort of fill in the gap left between casual fans of media and those who review productions for a living. Thus being open about bias while still giving enough insight, often with spoilers, to present whether something is worth seeing, buying, renting, streaming, or checking out at all.

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