I began 2019 on a plane to Paris. I was going to conduct some archival research, or at least this was my excuse. In hindsight, I didn’t really do much research, although I did spend most of my time in the belly of the BnF. I went for the purpose of pushing myself to do something I found kind of frightening. The prospect of traveling to another country unaccompanied made me a bit too aware of how free I truly am. I write this two days after leaving the infantile protection I still enjoy within my parent’s presence, having returned to New Haven where I’m entirely an adult, like it or not. A year ago, the notion of my independence, much coveted as a child, filled me with an unanticipated kind of dread. Even though I had technically been living on my own as an adult during my first two years of grad school, I hardly felt as if I really was independent. Yale had taken over my guardianship, was paying me an allowance, taking me to my doctor’s appointments while giving me enough space to think I was doing all of these things myself (all that’s changed is my awareness of this). Yet, I still found myself frightened by my own freedom. The existential cliff of being autonomous and ungoverned, finally cast off into dark and ominous waters. I could go to Paris and have experiences I think I need. I could stay and wonder what would have happened had I gone. In both scenarios, I would be forced to bear my own consequences.
I had to acknowledge that it was me who controlled the tempo and key of my life.
That this frightened me so much, as I was forcing myself to apply for the grants, come up with the project description, get the letters of recommendation, buy my tickets, and book my lodging, told me one important thing about myself: I did not trust myself. I had my freedom finally, but I did not know what freedom meant or that freedom could possibly feel so undesirable once it was attained. The burden of choice, the threat of repercussions. Placed atop my feigned belief in being able to handle anything the world or God threw my way, my mental composition seemed unfit to handle the everyday crisis of being. At times I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it, that things were too hard. Like most people my age, I leaned into the web of lies that tells us that other people can steel our resolve, that things like love and companionship can illuminate the sea’s darkness. I grew lovesick for love I’ve never had. The notion of friends having social connections to which I was not firmly attached bothered me, because I perceived of their activities together, as friends among themselves, as based on my exclusion. How absurd, but one cannot really be aware of oneself when they are so preconditioned to silence reason when feeling takes the mic. I expected people to just “get me” and for me to just “get people,” because it all seemed so easy when I looked in on other people’s lives.
My voyeurism told me that I was insufficient in some way. I had convinced myself that something out there could fix the aching lack, and I was disappointed when I could not manage to find this something.
All the while, I had not been able to name what was ailing me.
I was too naïve to realize that my pain wasn’t any different than anyone else’s, and that for most it was a tolerable, perhaps even permissible, pain. A pain for which the word pain may seem even too harsh, too acute. Not a pain, but an ache. Not an ache, but discomfort. A bit of gas Indigestion. Nausea.
I started wondering at 14 if, when I was being assembled at the plant, someone had fastened something a bit too tight
Added a bit too much of a strong ingredient.
Overcooked, overstuffed, ruined it?
Had someone let the pot boil dry?
And if so, must the boy be thrown away?
I began writing this post a week ago, and it was essentially done when I wrote it on Thursday. A week has gone by, and now I have more to think about and reflect upon. Unfortunately, this week has not been as blithe as last week was. Updates written today (July 6) are in red. 7/9: This must have been really confusing the first two days this was up, because I actually didn’t remember to highlight these sections in red in WordPress, although they’re in red in Word. Lol, my mistake.
Every night before I go to bed, a compulsion to check the door comes over me, typically before I brush my teeth. I go to my front door and check the locks, make sure it’s closed, and then go to the back door and do the same. I must do this, although I automatically lock the door behind me when I come inside or leave. Sometimes I do it twice, or three times.
I graduated two weeks ago. It wasn’t that momentous an occasion. For one, I always feel weird about these “sad” situations. It makes me feel cold when I realize that I am not sad to say goodbye to people. It’s not like I’m happy to say goodbye; I find that I brace myself for these situations weeks in advance, and therefore don’t feel much at all. I don’t really say goodbyes, because I am doubtful I will never see my friends again. Those who I may never see in person I will see online, on Facebook or Instagram, cyber-agoras. It is unlikely that I will completely drop out of contact with those I care about, and so saying goodbye to someone’s physical form does not seem to move me much at all. And saying this may make me seem cold, but I can’t do much to change how you read me, or how you read the way I read myself.
I am in New Haven, staying with a graduate student in the comparative literature department. New Haven is a nice town; I can already tell I am going to like it a lot. I’m taking the Latin class I’ve talked about, and it’s not too bad. While I think it’s annoying I have to learn Latin, I have a knack for languages and in many ways consider myself an amateur linguist. Latin, as a classical language, has a lot of features I’ve only been able to study on Wikipedia pages, and learning it will definitely help me understand how French and Portuguese and other Romance languages function, even if the utility of Latin will not necessarily intersect (at least directly) with my research.
I am set to move into my apartment in about a week. While I have been enjoying my time with my host, I feel like a burden nevertheless and will appreciate having my own space and not being a squatter in hers. Only time will tell.
I have a lot of things on my mind, and I’m kind of too tired to really formulate them into nice, flowing paragraphs. I just need to reflect.
Y’all. Why did I do Honors? Oh yeah, because I thought it would really help me get into grad school to see that I was pushing myself. Yet, as I am realizing, now that I’m in grad school, being in Honors at Swarthmore doesn’t necessarily mean you’re pushing yourself, because I could have taken these Honors courses and not have to take these stupid exams. without being an Honors major I took my first two exams (in Geographic Thought, a course I really enjoyed, although I don’t think I really grasp some of the problems we read about, and Black Cultural Studies, a course I took a year and a half ago) and the test were fine? I don’t think I wrote something good, but I made interesting points and tried to approach a complex topic in a way which drew together multiple authors, which is what I assume is the purpose of these exams. It’s not necessarily how poignantly you can respond to a question (which is inherently vague so as to remove the possibility of a one-answer solution), but how you can draw upon the materials of the course to construct an understanding of its subject material in response or in consideration of a vague, general question. Also the exam was open-notes, open-book, and so are all of my exams, and I have this annoying little voice in my head saying “why bother studying?” and I can’t not listen to it. I took my test today and finished with a lot of extra time, which kind of sent me into a panic because I wasn’t sure if I had just misread the questions. I have 5 more exams; one written, four orals. The next one is Monday. I then have 4 oral exams on the 15th and 16th.
So I wrote this blog post several weeks ago, and I for some reason never posted it, so I’m gonna post it now, but I’m going to add a short preface explaining where I am now. I also added some comments to clarify developments since this was written during my first wave of visits to Yale and Stanford (3/5 – 3/10) and my trip to Berkeley (3/17-3/20).
3/31 – I’m in Pittsburgh, presenting a chapter of my thesis which is just about finished. I have a bit of work to do, and my conclusion to finish, but my thesis is essentially all but done. I have also committed to going to Yale University, after about a month of fretting and second-guessing and listening to people tell me what to do and give me copious amounts of unsolicited advice. Of course, it didn’t help that like, two days after I committed to Yale and declined my offers elsewhere that Stanford sent me a big fat fellowship offer, but I’ve stayed steadfast, realizing that even with that fellowship in addition to my abnormally large stipend at Stanford, the price of living in Palo Alto is so high that I’d likely not have much money left at the end of the day, fellowship or not.
I am ready to be done with the semester. I’m so close, but I still have a huge mountain (Honors exams, lol) to get over before I’m clear. Then, I have a week of downtime before I start taking this Latin class at Yale.
I am sooooo tired, but excited. I want to sleep for a month straight and wake up and it’s Senior Week, a full day after my Honors exam. I wish I could just go on autopilot for the next few weeks, but I need to be present, need to attend this stupid swimming class in order to pass and graduate, need to finalize my summer plans, need to find an apartment, need to….
Anyways, here’s the now anachronistic and probably confusing blogpost that I wrote and just got around to published. I haven’t even changed much, because I know it was super-angsty, and I didn’t want to adulterate any of that raw emotion, since this blog is essentially the only space I give myself to really be emotional. Continue reading “yale-bound”
I’ve been having a hard time being by myself for a few months now. It started out as this sort of weird feeling, an uncharacteristic thirst for human contact.
I haven’t always been this way, either. I remember my junior fall (September – December 2015) as a time when I truly felt at peace being alone, in no one else’s company but my own. I had forced myself in ways to develop a decent rapport with my other selves, and in a way I had begun to embrace parts of my identity I had thoroughly but ineffectively tried to stow away. Nonetheless, as the semester drew to a close, and as my stomach began to knot up around itself, I started to have this sort of weird desire to be around people. It was I suppose when I was in Senegal when I began to become aware of it. Set adrift in a new country ruled by a foreign tongue, I began to find the presence of my American classmates oddly refreshing in contrast to the sensory bombardment all around me. I at first moaned about having to get up every morning at 7:45 in order to make it to school on time, my mind remembering in small the agonies of high school, but I found the subsequent eight hours I would spend at our house-cum-campus nice and comforting. Even if at times I was distant or removed from class, my mind elsewhere, I still found solace in the presence of other Americans, with whom I could speak freely without pre-thinking, without rehearsing a list of cultural and linguistic considerations.
I would not say that I clung to my friends in Dakar, but I would say that the amount of time I spent around them was markedly different from the amount of human contact I had at school the semester prior. I could go a couple of days without spending a large amount (more than a half an hour) with someone, and I was fine with it. I woke up alone, went to lunch alone, went to study alone, and went to bed alone. I had grown accustomed to this routine, and it had been beneficial for my mental health, to such an extent that I began to wonder if I really was this sort of reclusive hermit of a person, the kind who cringed at the touch of a familiar, who found nothing more loathsome than being in a room full of drunk people of their age.
I wasn’t going to post on the recent killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. I still don’t want to post about it. Going through my Facebook feed today, I saw so many comments on the issue from my close friends and loved ones, all voicing my personal feelings on the issue. The videos, the tributes, the think-pieces were all a lot to digest. I found myself searching for the specks of levity in my feed – memes, cooking videos, anything to distract my mind from the traumas of collective mourning. There was a negative energy in the world today which was inescapable. People were quiet, reflective, fearful. Everyone seemed to ask themselves and one another in private, just above a whisper: when will it stop? How can we make it stop?
My generation is angry.
We have a lot on our plates, and the true size of the mountain we must climb is heartbreaking. Perhaps what makes this obligation so exhausting is the perception of those around us that our conflict, our burden is but an amalgamation of non-issues. Coming from the outside and the inside, there is this notion which claims that our concerns aren’t significant and that we are fighting for nothing. In being told we have so little to worry about, what persists only grows in its immensity.
I had the opportunity of attending a demonstration to show Swarthmore’s solidarity with Black students at the University of Missouri. The past two weeks have made their Columbia, Missouri home into a hellhole as the secret racism which so many Americans bear surreptitiously and unknowingly exposed itself in social media, in terror-inducing comments and in gut-wrenching “expressions” of hatred. How poignant that this comes in the wake of tragic terrorist attacks in Paris, France and Beirut, Lebanon. White Americans are the first ones to decry the very brand of explicit fearmongering which has sustained this country for centuries when exercised by a different, browner people. I will not talk about Paris and Beirut, for those discussions deserve a far more intimate and detailed description of my feelings, the likes of which are evolving as the issue is further discussed. I will however talk about Mizzou, Yale and the incident which happened last week at Dartmouth.