written freshman spring 2015
inspired by this awesome video from Ze Frank
I just returned from a 7.013 Introductory Biology midterm, and the greatest pleasure in the world is ripping my glasses off, dragging pajamas on in a hurry before jumping into the softest bed for a nap. The rest of the day promises no surprises. I’ll need to find food, wash off long hours of studying, check in with friends and fellow midterm takers, and, mostly (or so I hope), study for the next exam. It’s all kind of… ordinary.
MIT is pretty great, don’t get me wrong. But now, when I walk across the East Campus courtyard, twisting my neck to see the Boston skyline, the trip feels routine, normal. I can walk out in my slippers and pajama pants or clothing that totally doesn’t match. Sometimes I carry a hamper of laundry. The thought of transporting a bag of dirty clothing directly across from the Boston skyline and along MIT campus would’ve terrified me earlier. But East Campus is home now, and any person should have the right to carry a laundry hamper across their own yard.
When I walk through Lobby 10 (that’s under the Great Dome), the momentary gaze at the river is almost automatic. It’s a daily checkup. Maneuvering the crowds in the Infinite Corridor has become easy.
I guess I’m used to being here, used to completing psets by Friday morning and then simply sitting on the couches in the lounge Friday evening. I’m used to the cycle of work and then more work and then chilling with friends and doing household chores. I find comfort in the ordinary and routine: the sitting, the nightly runs to Seven Eleven, the frequent walks to the Charles River or to a friend’s door, the room cleaning, the napping….
I could take it all for granted. But that’s not what this post is about. This is an attempt to find the magical in the mundane, to see the extraordinary in the habitual. Here goes.
On one side of MIT lies Boston, a place of opportunity and beautifully dressed people. Cambridge opposes the big city skyline with rows of small houses and shops with tiny wonders, like vinyl records of Soviet metal bands and extreme patent leather boots. Beyond that is the mystical place known as Harvard, one that I once had trouble believing existed. Then again, I was shocked when I saw the real life MIT Dome as well.
Just hours ago, I witnessed the sunrise. The Charles River was still, perfectly reflective. It seemed that the Boston skyline, the boats, and the buoys were all balancing on a mirror. A breeze blew tiny ripples along the middle of the waterway, driving a small MIT boat forward. A pink-orange glow spread over the surfaces of glass-covered towers across the river. MIT looked so peaceful!
In the Infinite Corridor, endless passages still wind together and separate and lead to hidden treasures and displays: a lab with a transparent glass front, a model of a ship, or a random Christmas tree that should’ve been watered. If I looked closely, perhaps I could try to pinpoint the lines where one building in the Infinite flows into another, or try to figure out the order in the Infinite’s numbering chaos (and maybe even find all the rare women’s restrooms).
In the East Campus courtyard, I can feel summer. The magnolias have bloomed. They smell sweet, and the sun is warm. Further down, students are playing tennis. The courtyard is now full of life.
The sun reflects off the silver spray paint on a wooden sign in the middle of the courtyard, illuminating the words “Welcome to EC.” It’s CPW 2015, and it feels just like last year, when, as a prefrosh, I wandered awkwardly into the yard, cautious and then excited.
Today, on the Biology exam, I had to answer questions about our body’s immune response. When I got sick last week, I could understand my blood test results! I could almost feel the lymphocytes fighting hard inside my lymph nodes, defeating the sickness that got past all the other immune system barriers. Once I’m better, my immune system will remember the fight, and I will hopefully not be sick like this again. I have 10 billion B cells to help with that.
I shudder at the complexity within all of us. There is so much going on, right now, in my body: the battle for better health, the production of new cells… It’s not so ordinary. Well, maybe it is, but learning about it, hearing about the most recent research conducted right here, a minute away from home, that is not so ordinary. That is pretty spectacular.
Flyers of all sizes and colors in the Infinite announce events in the MIT Community. There’s an improv comedy show this Friday by the student group Roadkill Buffet, and a Piano Drop from the roof of Baker House on Drop Date. Noam Chomsky is coming to speak again. And there’s more, so much more, so many things to see and hear and participate in.
After my nap, I will head over to the west parallel of East Campus, where I’ll get to talk to EC alumni and eat free pad thai. And afterwards I may be tempted to position myself in the lounge for a while, to talk about silly things and maybe also learn about the latest solar car developments or see a musical Tesla coil. Though, really, I should study for my 18.03 Differential Equations midterm. I’m almost excited for it. ODEs and Fourier Series, and all those things you can do with matrices and systems, are a lot to handle, but kind of cool. I’ll forget 18.03 content soon, I think, but I’m happy to learn it today.
More thoughts on academics: MIT is flexible. That’s pretty cool. Last week, I decided to pursue a non-existent major, Education. Well, technically it’s Urban Studies and Planning (Course 11), but the major requirements are flexible enough that I can tailor them to my needs. I might also get a minor in Comparative Media Studies (CMS) and explore educational games, film, and other types of media. I used to dream about being a Film major, and was convinced MIT would prevent that, but now everything has sort of resolved itself, and my CourseRoad looks extremely exciting. Putting everything in order, weeding out the unnecessary and supplementing it with the fascinating was a challenge. I want to learn it all. I hate that I have to wait for years to take some of the classes. So I have to keep moving and working more, and I guess that means I won’t settle down.
Over the summer, my friends will got on boats off the coast of Alaska, work at JPL, CERN, Red Hat, and NIH. Some will stay on campus, where I also will have the most exciting job ever (more on that later). Last summer, I couldn’t get hired at McDonald’s, Subway, Panera Bread, and Old Navy. This year, I cannot wait for employment!
Earlier, I met with a visiting protofrosh and, through her eyes, I saw the random beauty of the Infinite Corridor anew. “Everything at MIT seems like a puzzle. That’s what I love about it,” she said. I haven’t solved the puzzle yet.
So I’ll stay and explore more, in brief deviations from the “routine.” I’ve never been bored here, not yet. I wanted to stay on campus for the summer. It seemed odd to leave the place that makes me so comfortable, content, and excited, while also challenging me to learn. MIT is the place that allows me to experiment and explore, but always return to the comfortable routines.
Some things at MIT remain the same and cycle through. But sometimes, I can break the normal.
Look around. Things are pretty great. Remember that.