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MIT student blogger Shuli J. '22

nothing & everything again & again by Shuli J. '22, MEng '23

my senior iap

This is just one in the onslaught of many posts to come about what the bloggers did during their IAP (aka Independent Activities Period, aka a January term but ~quirky~). For me, my senior IAP was an interesting redux of my sophomore IAP, which I blogged about here, and from which I stole the title of this post. Freshman year I was busy taking classes; junior year was lost to the fog of the pandemic; but sophomore and senior year I got to be on campus, living life but not living it too much. And both times, it was wonderful. Two (very long) years apart, after a lot of pain, growth, heartbreak, maturity, etc., I found it interesting to see what changed for me and what didn’t.

Here are some things I did this IAP:

  1. Went out with friends: we went to the Harvard Museum of Natural History, checked out the reopened Toscanini’s ice cream in Central Square, went salsa dancing at the Havana Club, and generally had an excellent time doing the things we can never find time to do during the semester.
  2. Made art: over the summer, my internship held a poster-making event with a professional artist. She provided us with a lot of different small drawings we could mix and match together, plus paper and markers, and taught us about the principles of poster-making, slogan-choosing, etc. I didn’t have time to finish my poster at that session but it lived in the back of my mind until I was finally able to finish it over IAP! I also got started painting my door;01 We're allowed to do this in EC, which is pretty special it isn’t done yet, and I’m definitely gonna do a whole post about it later.
  3. Exercised: I had to take a break from exercise during the fall semester for medical reasons, and I was surprised by how excited I was to get back into it. Usually, I mostly lift weights; I find lifting very meditative, and I like the feeling of consistently improving. Getting back to lifting was as good as I expected, but I was surprised to also find myself  more in love with movement than usual. I ran up stairs for fun, just because I could, and felt happy instead of annoyed when I had to walk somewhere a long way away. I don’t know if this joy will be able to persist into the semester as psets tire me out, but I’m hoping to hold onto it. And if it fades, I’m still glad I got to feel it, and realize that it’s even possible to feel that good about moving.
  4. Cooked: my friend Caragay and I decided to try out some new recipes together — both of us wanted to try new things, but neither of us felt like we would actually accomplish it on our own. Our combined powers were as successful as we’d hoped, and we tried out Thai tofu curry, lentil soup, and oven fried rice (reviews in a nutshell: excellent, okay but we screwed it up so that’s on us, good). We had such a good time, in fact, that we’re going to try cooking more during the semester too! We’ll see how that goes…
  5. Cleaned my room: The fall semester always goes the same way: I move in with buttloads of stuff. I put away the majority of the buttloads of stuff. It turns out that a minority of buttloads is still most of a buttload. The most-of-a-buttload of stuff then sits on my floor for the entire semester, possibly declining slightly in size as I occasionally put away one or two things, but also possibly increasing in size as I acquire more objects.
    The messiness level of my room is surprisingly high considering how much it annoys me, so I always jump on the chance to clean it up as soon as I have free time. I find it very satisfying to reorganize my storage systems so that I have enough space to fit in everything on the floor, and then to delight in my clean smooth empty floor afterwards. This year, I also actually *got rid* of some things I wasn’t using as I reorganized, which is a third separate little joy of cleaning! (If you can’t relate, I understand, it’s OK. But it does bring me joy.)

How does this compare to two years ago? In my sophomore IAP blog post, I said I: laid in bed thinking (did some of that, but less); participated in Mystery Hunt (did that again); adventured around campus and Boston with friends (did that again); read books (meant to do that but didn’t, oops!); coded for fun (also meant to do that and didn’t); wrote something down every day (I was 42 days in two years ago and now I am 783 days in, which is kind of incredible — I’ll blog about this separately some other time); cleaned my room (did that again); and felt joy.

That last one is the most important activity, and the most interesting point of comparison. Sophomore year when I felt IAP-flavored joy, I felt like I was feeling it for the first time. The joy of (relative) adulthood, of free time, of choosing how and when to do what you want — that was all new to me. And then the pandemic happened and I lost it all (along with a lot of other things). Living on campus again this fall, I got to feel a lot of joys I had missed, but I hadn’t yet experienced these ones again. This IAP, they came back.

My freshman and sophomore years, sometimes in quiet moments it felt like I could hear the universe. Freshman summer, sophomore IAP; I would pause, in the late afternoon sunlight or the early morning blue, and I felt like something inside of me was resonating at the same frequency as the world outside. The pandemic took that from me; the universe became a place full of unpredictable badness, that I couldn’t imagine as harmonious or welcoming to me. Over this IAP, I felt like I regained my ability to hear the universe. I don’t trust it like I used to,02 Not to be dramatic, but truthfully, I don't think I'll ever trust anything the way I did before the pandemic. I used to believe there were some things you could always rely on. And now I don't. but I can hear it. And sometimes, if I stay still, I can feel again that we share a frequency, that we are in tune. It’s not the same frequency as before. But it’s there.

  1. We're allowed to do this in EC, which is pretty special back to text
  2. Not to be dramatic, but truthfully, I don't think I'll ever trust anything the way I did before the pandemic. I used to believe there were some things you could always rely on. And now I don't. back to text