We’re sitting in my room doing pretty much nothing, because I guess we’re lame, or because there’s not much to do in the first place. It’s a Friday night, but campus is quiet in the summer.
My door is open. It’s pretty hot in here, but I’m pretty used to it. There are a few people on the bed and one in my chair, when enter Brenda through the doorway. Brenda is bubbly and sweet and used to live on this floor and is wearing a red dress with white polka dots to match her red (pink?) hair. She acquaints herself with the room. I tell her she should come sit on the bed, if she wants, and that I think her dress is cute.
Nick is on the other side of the bed, by the window, and I mention to him and Brenda that I hadn’t been working on my UROP. I say this in a sort of half-jokingly-triumphant way because I had been uninterested in the project for a while, but felt sort of conflicted about whether or not I should do it anyway, because I don’t know… is quitting your summer UROP a thing? is a resume a thing I should care about? is there a good reason I should feel obligated to continue? to which I had settled on “probably not” for each. Brenda applauds this decision; Nick expresses a similar dispassion. Emilio suggests that it might be more interesting to do research than to do nothing, a comment I would think comes from a place of him being very interested in his own work. I know a lot of people who feel this way, but I don’t think I’m one of them yet.
To follow this discussion, Brenda raises a thought. She says “you guys, it’s weird to think that this is probably the last period of time where we can just exist as people.”
And I think, wait, what? But she continues, and clarifies that she expects the rest of her foreseeable future to be defined by pressing obligations, exams, internships, careers, deadlines… commitments that, in one way or another, limit one’s ability to exist as a person.
Emilio says “what, no, it’s definitely not,” and I agree with him that it doesn’t have to be. I’m not sure in reality if it will be or not, though she’s right that it’s weird to think that.
The other day I woke up at 10 to say goodbye to my mom and sisters. My two little sisters are fraternal twins who are both two years younger than I am. We had spent the last few days wandering around Cambridge and eating lunch multiple times in a row and generally being cute.
A night-shifted sleep schedule makes 10 way too early, so I was still sleepy when they left. I took a shower, did all the normal waking-up things, and erroneously decided I was awake enough to go into Boston to pick up a thing I’d been meaning to buy. Soon after I sat down on the Green Line train, I drifted into sleep.
I was the only person left on the train in what you could reasonably classify as the middle of nowhere, way at the end of the line. The driver was telling me to get off, and so I came to my senses, felt silly for a second, then stepped out to see where I was. There was a hospital, I think. A parking lot, the occasional car, a person or two in the distance. Google maps told me it would take 40 minutes if I wanted to walk back, to which I decided “why not.” It was slightly more hot than was comfortable outside, but I guess I’d handled worse.
Huh? I didn’t actually hear what he yelled at me. He was the only other person in the vicinity and we were both walking in the same direction from the middle of nowhere to the middle of somewhere and I was mildly afraid of him, because I don’t know, stranger danger. He approached me. I asked him his name. “Fred.”
He was shortish, smiley, not dressed super well. He must have been in his late twenties. He told me he regretted that he hadn’t taken his education seriously when he was younger because now he had all of these ideas for public transportation innovations that he would never be able to work on. He was instead a landscaper, and he said he felt angry too often. He was waiting for a “catalyst” to change everything in his life, and joked that he might run for office to make history as the first politician with tattoos on his face. I told him I would totally vote for him.
After I walked all the way back to where I actually needed to be, I said goodbye and it was nice meeting you and I walked north as he went east. I bought what I wanted, then settled into a nearby café to read about anarchist poetry and literature for a while. I ate a one-scoop cup of their overpriced gelato before I returned to campus to meet some friends for dinner. Harry, the beautiful British ray of sunshine who lives two doors down from me, was visiting for a few days from his internship in DC. We realized the place where we wanted to eat was closed so we ate Mexican food instead and went back to East Campus and lit a massive cockroach on fire.
I don’t really know what I want. I don’t always enjoy studying for classes, but I like the feeling of having studied, then seeing in an email a few days later that my score exceeds the average. I like the feeling of concrete accomplishment and the notion that each good grade or resume item might help me do what I want in the future. Not that I’m sure what that is.
I like to learn new things. I recently spent a day reading about indigenous cultures, for example, then the next day looking at human intelligence. I’m learning about different philosophies and deciding if they make sense to me. I can read ten hours a day without any class or exam to do it for.
I like having silly nonsensical text conversations with my boyfriend. I like when my friends show me videos of terrifying sea worms. I like the feeling of walking along the river and smiling at a passing Labradoodle then considering that the person walking it probably feels neglected, because her dog is getting all the attention, and then awkwardly smiling at her too.
I don’t really know.
Archana’s family is traditional, but Archana is unconventional. She has a quick wit and vibrant personality and hides a collection of tiny happy phallic decorations when her parents come to visit. Earlier this summer, we were hanging out in my room when I told her I was thinking of getting a septum piercing, you know, in the pursuit of a folk-punk aesthetic.
“Oh, I was just talking about that recently with Jessica,” she said, “I was thinking of getting one on my eyebrow. But I’m not sure.”
I said “you totally should, cause we could match and be like… a gang.” We went on my laptop to look up nearby piercing parlors and pictures of people with piercings, and I ended up getting mine the following day. I learned in the aftercare brochure that you can’t actually take out jewelry from a facial piercing for several months after getting pierced (something I maybe should have considered beforehand, whoops). Fortunately, if it’s a septum piercing, you can easily hide it if you need to by just flipping the jewelry upwards.
I told Archana the thing about not being able to hide most piercings, knowing that her parents wouldn’t approve (my mom, for the record, told me I looked punk). She ended up getting the septum piercing too, and we agreed we were officially twins, or a gang, or both because why not.
Some time later, I wrote out a several-thousand word overview of a political philosophy I had been interested in. It wasn’t finished, but it was something like an infusion of my own ideas into the anti-authoritarian leftism that Chomsky writes about. I had spent the past while reading as much as I could about these ideas – their criticisms, the assumptions behind them – and carefully considering it all.
I sent the document to Archana, to whom I had mentioned I was interested in this kind of thing. She wrote me a generously detailed response about what she thought was good, what was unclear, and potential counterarguments I neglected to refute. She then asked if she could send me her own writing; it was a poem about her introspections and family and life.
I have a job to pay for housing here this summer. It’s non-academic and non-resume boosting, but it gives me freedom to spend most of my time how I want with the occasional disruption for attending to someone. When I’m asked what I’m doing this summer, I tend to not mention it at all.
I would say that this summer I’ve learned about political theory, psychology, and the practice of hypnotism. I’m most of the way through a cute online course in Esperanto where a green cartoon bird cries if you don’t practice every day. I’m trying to develop a more complete personal philosophy, and I think I’m becoming the kind of person who uses the word “fascist” in describing things that aren’t governments. heh heh.
I’m spending more time with other people. I’m not naturally the most outgoing person, but I feel very close with the friends that I have. We take trips together, make each other laugh, get the same holes in our faces, and share things that are important to us.
I finally made friends with the cat on my floor who used to always run away when I tried to pet him. He’s orange and his face reminds me of a concerned owl. His name is Caboodle.
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I think I’ve been very happy lately.
The other day Nick and I hung out by the river from one to six-something in the morning. We talked about a wide range of random thoughts, and it was very sweet and wonderful.
At one point we were discussing the prospect of grad school. I told him that I still wasn’t sure whether I would rather get straight As or tread more leisurely to enjoy little things along the way. Balance is obviously a thing people do, or try to do, but that simple ideal doesn’t answer these situational dilemmas about whether you should study for 18.03 an extra hour vs. write a poem about your thoughts. Or say, complete a research internship or just spend your time how you like.
I got so caught up during the year. Maybe part of it was the vague anxiety of failing college and becoming an angry yard worker, or at least not being able to do the job I want. Definitely a lot of it came from the fact that I wasn’t yet taking classes that interested me (GIRs and stuff), so I would procrastinate too much and provoke the little voice in the back of my mind to whine “staaap enjoying yourself and go work.” It’s not hard to forget how to just be a person with the craziness of this place, sometimes. But it’s quiet here in the summer.