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MIT blogger Cami M. '23

play dough by Cami M. '23

I’m a very Type A person, I’d say. I tend to need to be in control of things, get upset when things don’t go my way, or when things or people come later than they originally said they were going to. I’m impatient and expect promptness. I don’t like sudden changes and I don’t like when things are out of place, which is funny because to the average viewer, my room looks like a mess, but in reality it is my organized mess. I know exactly where I’ve put things even if it’s messy and out in the open and not at all where it usually is, but I know because I’ve put it there and I’ve got a system.

Regardless, this led to me disliking a lot of things as a kid and some of those dislikes have stuck with me, even at 19. I dislike face paint. It was always untidy to me, the way it looked just icked me out and the thought of having random paint on my face always disturbed me. I disliked stickers as a child, hating their tacky appearance or the way that kids would place them here and there without any thought. On desks, on water bottles, on their face. It was messy. Most notably of all, I disliked play dough. I hated the way that the kids around me would grab and smash random colors together to turn into some gross brown gruel and I’d look in disgust at how they had ruined the very nice thing we had.

As I grew up, I still maintained this attitude with stickers and paint and playdough, until I became best friends with a girl we’ll refer to as Ellie in high school. Ellie was the kind of girl who would draw or paint carelessly throughout all of our classes. She’d sketch incredible portraits or drawings without second thought or a plan beforehand. I remember being incredibly envious of her ability to whip these out of nowhere, whereas if I wanted to make something nice, I’d need to tediously plan it out beforehand.

In art, she’d grab random colors and I’d ask her “What are you planning to paint?” and she’d just shrug and say, “Whatever I feel like.” I couldn’t at all…fathom that. Going into something without a plan, without thinking, just feeling it as you go. It was completely foreign. I was the kind of person that needed to dwell on something before starting it, making sure I covered all my bases before I even put a pen down to paper. I needed to outline every essay, pencil every sketch, map every direction before even leaving home.

I’d watch in awe as Ellie would decorate her bullet journal with various stickers and sketches and colors, all of them falling into place despite randomly coming about with no prior plan.

It wasn’t until later that I’d realize that I was envious of this ability. This…ability to create and do without care or worry. The freedom of smashing your playdough together. The bravery of painting on a blank canvas without any idea of what stroke you’re going to do next. It only then hit me that I didn’t dislike playdough or painting or stickers or any of that: I was merely afraid of the finality of the decision. When I put down a sticker, I wouldn’t be able to pick it up again or I’d ruin it. If I mixed the playdough together, I wouldn’t be able to unmix it into its original form. And the idea of that…terrified me. How did I know the colors were going to turn out nice? How did I know if I was going to like my sticker placement four months from now?

It was this fear of commitment, this unsureness in my decisions, that led me to not make the decision at all.

A lot of my time at MIT is spent reflecting on the then and now, the person I was before MIT and the person after, and making sure those changes are always in a positive direction. Today, my Wellness Coordinator in New Vassar offered us a variety of stress toys to get us through midterms and she offered me play dough in two different colors, blue and white. I took them and thanked her and headed back to my pod lounge. I eagerly whipped out the two play dough and started squishing them, as one does, before I paused and stared very intensely at them.

I had the urge…to mix them. Which I’ve never done before.

And I turned to Raymond and said, as if it were some kind of grand revelation, “I want to mix the play dough.”

So he said yeah do it. But I still hesitated. “I’m scared to.”

“Why? Cause you can’t reverse it if you do?”

I nodded. And he simply shrugged and went back to his microcontroller lab. So I stared longer, at the dark sea blue play dough in my left hand and the creamy white in my right.

And in these seconds that I stared I thought about the many Camis of the past. The five year old Cami that refused to even touch play dough. The fifteen year old Cami that sat in envy of her best friend, carelessly mixing colors together to create masterpieces. And the nineteen year old Cami now, faced with a decision to mix her play dough.

And I mixed it. I smushed the blue and the white together and kept churning and mixing and churning until it turned into this pretty muted blue and I sat with my final product in awe. I had finally become the kind of person to mix play dough. The kind of person to put down a pset and spontaneously go to IHOP at 3 in the morning. The kind of person to say hi to a stranger or dance in the rain in front of a crowd of people or unabashedly greet a group of frosh to make them feel more welcome.

I think for a long, long time I’ve always wanted to be freed from this fear of the unknown, this fear of “What if things don’t turn out the way I want them to?” And in a way, MIT has helped me get through this. My confidence at MIT has unexpectedly…spiked during my time at MIT. I’m confident in talking in front of strangers and asking questions when I don’t understand anything in a room full of my peers or being obnoxious and loud in the best ways possible in public.

MIT has helped me grow into the kind of person I once was afraid of, the person I was once envious of. And I’m forever grateful for that. I’m happy that today I mixed a little play dough.