We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.
— Anaïs Nin (via psych-facts)
My experiences as a class of 2014 transfer student at Swarthmore College and 3rd year study abroad student at Oxford University.
We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.
— Anaïs Nin (via psych-facts)
I grew so much in the span of winter break that my first full day of my last semester at Swarthmore feels exactly how it did when I first got to campus as a sophomore. Overwhelmingly different but familiar, beautiful, intoxicating. And instead of my friends talking about figuring out their major, their passion, their track in life, i’m overhearing conversations about applying to grad school and settling on a city to live in for the next couple years.
It always unnerved me in an amusing kind of way how you can assign great volumes of time to about three words or less, like everything is sufficiently quantifiable, easily aggregate-able … I came across this concept ‘the countable infinity’ and the limited capacity of our minds to comprehend Infinity itself beyond its application to just the natural numbers … I’ve no serious math training, let alone any real experience with higher order mathematical theory, but more and more I am interested in the core of things. And not just the core, but the scope, too. Asking what the purpose of this is? Not in the dismissive sense, or even the philosophical sense, but I’m really excited by where an idea — in all of its aggregate glory — comes from … what motivates it, what is at it’s heart, the crux, and what lies at its edges. I know, this is spacey stuff.
This semester I’m focusing on just two politics seminars: The Urban Underclass and Constitutional Law … much reading, much writing, much conversation with the people who add different dimensions to existing knowledge. So my semester will be reminiscent of Oxford tutorials, except with Swarthmore professors (professors who I hear are the lions of their respective fields). And then, like I do, I’ll touch a little of everything else I like … writing, dancing, practicing the formal Arabic I picked up last semester, and making time to make the memories that are not easily quantifiable.
When it snows here, Swarthmore is very dream-like, and there is something so stirring about being the most lucid I’ve ever been.
I’m home. packing books in my purse and reading under the table at family dinners … occasionally looking at my resume and marveling at the process of boiling down … and graceful bouts of doing nothing and everything at the same time.
this past semester was the first time in a very long time where I let my self be careless. of course, I cared in all the necessary ways like doing the work required of me, but principally, I trusted in my most visceral character … the person who placed intuitive wisdom before practical reason … sometimes the consequences left me aching for order, and for another person to tell me that everything would be fine — but I was that person … and everything was more than fine. many things happened. many understandings reached and realizations made. many small expansions of my self — growth spurts.
today is the eve of new years eve and less and less do I think about my life as segmented in academic terms, sectored off so that one iteration of me existed during one semester or one season … I am a much more fluid person today, all the things I know are collecting and flowing from all the things I see and do and imagine … so New Years is a timely moment, a test to see whether I can qualify the difference in my person in the difference of a calendar day … it might be, and only because I’ll want it to be … because a new year, a new semester, a new home — newness is a very deliberate choice and I like the opportunity to feel buoyant.
I am getting more familiar with saying Sorry, I was wrong and you were a thought closer to Right and we can move past that and make something beautiful as long as your voice doesn’t carry authority in the moments after my concession.
I am becoming more sure of my ideas, that my critical thinking can reflect something that seems irrelevant, but in the right context can be the kind of argument to shift the whole conversation a whole other plane of reasoning over. And even if the thought can’t be comprehended the first time through, I will be patient in my reiteration.
I am appreciating the moments of hopelessness as the kindling for a much more fulfilled flame; because where I find the tenor of my inner self dancing in the middle of a great song or outside in crisp air at dusk, there is fire.
I am hugging the people I imagine hugging, and doubling back to to say out loud the thoughtful afterthought. I am in touch with my own insincerity, and insecurity, and insensitivity, and it’s made me so much more sincere, secure, sensitive. I am giving more detailed directions to strangers. I am smiling at everything and nothing. I am eating slowly. I am wearing lather on my hands before I rinse them. I am really looking.
I am eating and sleeping and speaking and dancing everyday. And I have all my senses, plus the sense that is conscious of having sensation.
For everything, thank you, Giving.
It’s not like I forgot that I had this blog. I’ve tried to start this post four other times now, only to scrap the first couple lines and write it off as altogether untimely. It’s good that the moment in which I feel ready to write is on the ride back to campus with my mom and dad after a weekend spent at home, in an email draft on a radiant, dying Macbook in the backseat, with plenty of other work I could be doing.
And where do I start … It’s been a little over a month into the first semester of my senior year … But I’m going to try not to do that — tell in terms of time.
So you should know some of the highlights: I’m working a very rewarding job as an admissions fellow in the College’s Admissions Office interviewing perspective students; dropping in when I can on Oasis (spoken word) meetings; and taking 5.5 quirky credits in all the things I’ve been trying to study for a little while now — Intensive Elementary Standard Arabic, Problems in Technology (an engineering course for non-majors about the automobile), Intro to Computer Science, and an Honors Seminar in Ancient Political Theory. Oh, and yoga.
That all means a few things, like, I’m usually doing something for some commitment I’ve made (CS lab session, Admissions interview, class, etc.) It also means I’m having a really incredible semester - one of those semesters where I spread myself thin in all the right ways. I’m taking a language when I thought before it was already past my prime; I’m in a seminar that combines Oxford and Swarthmore in all their respective glory, and I’m finding serious salvation in a physical practice that structures meditation into my days and leaves me indulgently sore.
But being back at Swarthmore after being abroad for a year feels like being the first one to dance in a flash mob. I’ve never felt so sure, or like such a part of some bigger, greater thing; but the initiating action — or, re-initiation — is daunting. Time away from any collectivity gives you perspective in a way that can be really isolating, like you’ve outgrown the bearings of an old friend, but more than anything I’m just so happy and so appreciative to be studying the things I’m interested in, and more than that, to be surrounding by people who think — and who encourage me to think — in some really extraordinary ways.
One thing I’ve been trying to figure out (… and it’s not my future, I’m trying to stick to the switch I made that shuns anxiety and expectation …) is my creative capacity.
My being away from home and at Oxford required that a lot of my mental and emotional effort was directed towards acclimating to a surprisingly different culture and doing well academically, which meant that I seriously muzzle my imagination. Of course, I didn’t have to, but it happened, and I’m also trying to stick to the switch I made that doesn’t entertain regret.
So now: I’m just trying to explore experimentation. To take photos, and write when the feeling’s there, and read everything and anything, and keep conversation and reproduce it in the forms I once worried wouldn’t resonate.
And I’m working with others. I guess that’s the most gratifying experience of this semester — carving my experiences not so carefully and letting nature take its course. Whatever that means, however that means … trusting in some combination of my potential, others’ goodwill, and the universal grand scheme of things … trusting in my past to have carried me well to this point which will carry me just as well into what’s beyond.
short story to be much, much longer …
I am trying to imagine what the taxi driver still working to get his PhD is imagining. What fills his head at red lights and whether he curses the same way when he forgets to save the latest version of his dissertation, and when he’s sitting in traffic, his destination to hand him a new destination.
I am trying to imagine what it feels like to be so in between the more notable phases of your life. To feel untenable and indefinite. To have so much vague passion and so much uncrafted resolve that every mundane mishap in the day feels like it could be the pinprick to deflate the hot air balloon of hope you blew unrequited life into.
I am trying to imagine things I have already imagined. In other words, I am thinking in other words. I feel at once that I have already thought up all the intimations of existence, and also not have even felt the warmth breathed from the fire of immeasurable life.
21 years are only a fraction of a fraction of an ark’s age.
It’s been some time because I needed some time. Away from my computer and away from the online hemisphere. Now with a full month behind me and the promise of a new one beginning today, I feel settled enough to write here again.
Trinity, the third and last term at Oxford, trotted by. I went to my tutorials, wrote my papers, rode the coach into London, and spoke spoke spoke with old and new friends. And before I knew it, 8 whole weeks had come and gone without pretense, my hair had quietly grown an inch or two, and I was cleaning Euros out of drawers and collecting books off of shelves that had gathered a familiar dust.
The highlight of the term had hands down been a graduate-level course I took in the politics and history of humanitarian aid. I thought about Rwanda and Kosovo and Ethiopia every day. I thought about what I wanted to do with my life and my energy and all the attention I’d let scatter over the years. That was the thing: I was interested in so much. But time, like a heavy and hurried detail, was tactile and I felt like I was wasting it every time I thought about it.
It’s still the summer time now. Time I spent savoring love and light in Chicago, and am spending on trains in New York and with family in New Jersey. I decided not to work in the month and a half I had before returning for my Senior year at Swat. I’m disillusioned about the intern world, delicate from having been away from home so intermittently this last year, and enamored with the routine of waking up to the sun, scribbling on paper, and wading in all the books I let pile up by my bedside.
Studying at Oxford for a year felt like letting everything everywhere else go on without me while I did this one thing I was sure would change who I was. And it was. And it did. It’s hard really to put into a neat abstract my experience. Partly because when it comes to big conclusions, my memory fails me, and partly because I don’t want to do that. Too often we want to summarize our life and outline the emotions we are feeling. We recap so we remember. For ourselves and for others. But there are no gists in life. There are no essential details. There is no abridged version of my time abroad. No way I can condense for a reader all the moments and memories I have so that they understand fully what it was like to go my third year of university in an entirely different place on my own.
Maybe I need more time. More time and more distance to appreciate the particular way I see, understand, speak about things now.
And so I’m so excited to be at Swarthmore again. For the trees and the controversy and opportunity to let simmer and sing the person who I’ve become, but don’t quite know just yet.