I want anyone who comes to the college to know that you should walk on the grass. This is the one place you should walk on the grass. Don’t use the paths — concrete is limiting and your joints don’t deserve it.
a 3000-word seminar paper
a 16-page department paper
a 3-page think piece
a 40-page policy paper
I thought making a list might weigh me down with the anxiety about having only a month and a half to culminate the past four years, but seeing what’s left to do is like being handed the baton of balance. There’s not so much left. And sandwiched in between all of the academic assignments is all of the unquantifiable time spent just being a kid in college with the well-focused fact of adulthood coming down the pike. There’s no word count for that kind of reality. Or this reality. Or any reality. What is reality? Why the segmentation of lives into quarter-lives spent at classroom desks, and then dorm room desks, and then at corporate desks … I don’t work on a desk, I don’t work, I am always doing, I am always moving, and when I’m not, everyone else is, so we’re all bound to converge somewhere, maybe at the amphitheater when we graduate and then later at our 10-year reunion and then on sidewalks and then among stars.
But first, I’ve gotta write this paper.
something about doing laundry at college is monumental, like the wash, dry, fold process is symbolic of a thing much bigger and much greater than me and my life — I am doing something on my own; I am taking a step forward, measurable and finite, unlike my studies, but a perpetual process (learning, right?). I am productive; I am clean. but it’s the second half of the spring semester of my senior year and i still take a minute or two to decide on a wash temperature.
anyway, my dad dropped me off at the bus stop this afternoon and said “these next 8 weeks are it — this is what you’ve been working for the last twenty-some years: take every moment. it’ll fly, don’t let it drag or you’ll lose your breath.” or something like that because my dad is an immigrant and the way he articulates life lessons is gluing a cliche, sometimes sports-related, to folk wisdom.
at least three people in the last week have called these next two months “the home stretch,” “the final stretch” so I am doing everything to breathe and nothing to dwell on the ending as if it were a baseball metaphor because sometimes that is so inadequate a description for how i feel. the victory lap’ll feel like a jog, but only because i’ve been sprinting for so long. but see, you can’t think about resting when you’ve still got so much to do; it’s like when you keep eating, even when you’re full or going to work on your day off — diminishing returns are the selfish friend, or drinking black tea instead of coffee, or skipping third base to go straight to home when its only a ground ball in the outfield. baseball metaphors only work if you get them, you know?
i don’t watch a lot of television or even read that much for pleasure (at the moment), but somehow whole hours go by as if i were lost in other people’s stories. at the end of the day, at the end of every day for the rest of my life — because college is not the end of my life, college is, like, the middle of the second inning — i want to sit down and breathe back all the time i gave away. my dad described the process to me like some extra-temporal fountain of youth: you can’t disintegrate if you are holding yourself together. the things I’m learning here, at Swat, are that very process in heavy, theoretical terms: rational economic models and conceptual sociological frameworks, facts and figures put life in black and white, dusting all the gradations in the footnotes and suggesting you take a look at the bibliography because nothing is original and ideas don’t die, they are reborn as research and rebuttals and if i want to, I could write a book.
i am glad for these days. i am so glad, and so grateful to be asked of nothing except my mind and my time. even when i am not in motion, i am up to bat.
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 …