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MIT student blogger Phoebe C. '18

November by Phoebe C. '18

summary: books, playlist, gratitude

I’m on the train home to Philadelphia. Currently: four women run my life–SZA, Solange Knowles, Sappho, my mother.

Schoolwork saturated the first two weeks of November, and then last week was suddenly too free. Now it’s Thanksgiving break. Next week will be absurdly busy, and I am not looking forward to it.

A few things that happened in November: I spent a day giving math problems to seventh-grade girls. A friend from high school visited me. I boarded a plane to New York, spent a day interviewing there, and then almost missed my flight back to Boston. I grew restless and finished two books. I grew restless and bought two more. I spent way too much time with my head buried in books–frigid weather, 4:30 PM sunset1, overlong reading list; it was bound to happen.

Here are some snippets from the past month. (I’ve kind of been following my own schedule and not doing many student-life related things because of the time constraints imposed by the rest of my life. Welp.)


At some point in the semester, it occurred to me that I owe a lot to ancient Greece, to Pythagoras and Euclid and Zeno and Ptolemy. They are people who made math fundamental and rigorous.

I imagined I’d read some classical philosophy this semester. Instead, I am reading a 2007 book2 that tells me to distrust Platonic forms and simplified models. I am reading Sappho3 instead of Socrates. So much for philosophy.

books/making time to read/coping with life

I read a lot before coming to MIT but stopped during my freshman year, mostly because I was trying to throw myself into being A Well-Adjusted College Student. I was doing standard freshman things and standard rebellious things–making friends, baking spontaneously, going sledding, walking around Boston aimlessly with friends, dying my hair pink, dancing at parties, disowning parts of my previous self. It was a lot of fun, but in April I started to miss all the dimensions of my personality I’d thrown out in order to follow new friends around. I felt, in addition, that we were constantly doing things to be sensational. It was a lot of fun, but we were not really getting to know each other.

I spent my freshman spring unhappily, largely by my own doing. I felt disconnected from student life. I spent too much time completing perfect schoolwork. The social dynamics of my living group stressed me out, and I was unhappy that I read only textbooks and wrote only proofs.

So I spent the summer running around Hong Kong and slowly getting back into the swing of reading and writing. I came back to MIT refreshed. I moved to a more diverse place. And I made a commitment with one of my friends–each week, we meet for an hour and do nothing but read. Usually we end up staying for much longer than an hour. In a similar way, I committed to working out: gym, twice a week, with a friend.

  1. This is, apparently, the most effective way for me to get things done–by making commitments with other people. It’s much easier for me to justify skipping a workout when all that’s at stake is my long-term health (clearly not that important), but when you add a friend who’s at the gym waiting for me–well, I can’t just not show up, can I?
  2. I love my friends. Where would I be without them?
  3. As a side effect, spending this much time with people one-on-one has led to much stronger relationships.

My grades have dropped this semester; my schoolwork is no longer perfect. I am not really doing badly in classes–I am just not doing as well as before. But I am also so happy, though prioritizing my happiness often makes me uncomfortable. Here’s what my best friend, Jenn, said about this at one particularly desperate point:


  1. She puts it so well.
  2. Where would I be without Jenn?


Spending time with books means spending time with music. My playlist for the month includes some sad songs at the periphery of R&B. It sounds almost like a breakup playlist, which is apt because November has indeed been a breakup with good weather and good grades. None of these songs have anything to do with MIT; they’re just to set a mood. Listen if you’d like.


My mother

…keeps texting me emojis. I can’t wait to see her.


Every Thanksgiving, I go through the motions of expressing gratitude for my friends and family, but this year, I think I finally understand what it really means to be thankful. I apologize if that sounds cheesy or ungrateful or plain dumb–I just feel more than ever as though I am being propped up by the people around me in some tangible way. I finally opened my life up to tumult, and I realized, over and over, that I could rely on my friends and family to help me when I struggled. I’m thankful for them. I am also thankful for this blog. Thank you if you have sent me emails. Thank you if you haven’t but are still here reading. Thank you, world, for being so good to me these past few months. :)

1 I always pledge my allegiance to the northeast U.S., but I wonder if the chapped skin and the static electricity and low spirits of winter are really worth the quaintness and the pace of life and all the other enjoyable aspects of life here.

2 The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

3 If Not, Winter–translated by Anne Carson, who writes some delicious poetry herself, if you’re into that kind of thing. As for Sappho–only fragments of her work survive. What’s most impressive to me is that her poetry remains poignant and intense even when half the words have been lost to the elements, even without musical accompaniment from the lyre.