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MIT student blogger Shuli J. '22

semester 4, take 2 by Shuli J. '22

positivity edition!

me: is this my fourth semester? can you explain that to me?

my mom: nope.

can someone explain to me the passage of time? how to avoid growing old? can someone tell me how i got here, and there, and to all these further places?

ok. ok. i’ve got this. no quarter life crisis. ANYWAY!

There is a lot going on, obviously. I could write a lot of posts. I could write about how still, I think all the time about that heartbreaking escalating unpredictable horrible move-out week in March, and how even just writing those words makes my heart beat faster. I could write about how I think to a certain extent my outlook is forever different, now, because I know how fast you can lose everything you counted on and have your whole foundation crumble. I could write about how no one knows what’s going to happen this fall, not because of administration (who is actually doing a pretty good job of communicating) but because no one knows what the world will look like in a few months. I could, and maybe sometime I will, write about the days where it feels like I’m trying to stand on water, and just slipping underneath, all my certainty gone and everything meaningless, the future a void.

But maybe for this blog post we could pretend? We could focus on the good parts, because there are lots of those too. I can tell you about what happened this semester, before and after Everything, and just talk about what made me happy.

Let’s do that.

I had a slightly unusual class schedule this semester, after I somehow successfully convinced my advisor to let me sign up for three humanities classes and one technical (the opposite of the most ‘typical’ schedule). This sort of backfired when I ended up with a bunch of Zoom meetings every day, as opposed to my big technical, which recorded lectures we could watch at our leisure. But, for the first seven weeks we met, it was really nice! I took 21L.004 (Reading Poetry, a CI-H), 24.904 (Language Acquisition), 21G.702 (Spanish 2), and 6.006 (Introduction to Algorithms).

Each of these classes, at varying times, has made me happy for its own specific reason. I always want to read more poetry, but I never actually do it, so being forced to was great; I love linguistics and I love children, so of course I looove learning about how children learn languages; I have really gotten a lot better at Spanish, to the point that I think I can learn on my own now; and it turns out that algorithms, which I knew basically nothing about before, are just very cool fun puzzles!

Being online was definitely tough at times, and I’m going to have to take a bunch of technicals next semester. But I’m glad to have taken these classes, and very glad to be at a school where I can do so while majoring in something completely different.

Another one of my projects this semester has been getting even more into cooking. (Lowkey, my blogging here just tracks my slow descent into dropping out of MIT to go to culinary school. I learned to cook and enjoy eggs, in their many glorious forms.) I got really into baking bread once I was home (I know, I’m not original), and tried my best to recreate some of my most-loved MIT dishes (Anna’s burritos are irreplaceable, but my tortillas aren’t half bad). I was musing with a friend the other day that cooking is one of my favorite hobbies because it’s perfect for perfectionists: there’s room for you to iterate, improve and optimize — but when something inevitably turns out imperfectly, you can’t be disappointed, because as long as it’s delicious, it’s a happy success.

I’ve been thinking a lot this semester about why I like what I like, and even just about *what* I like. I think those things can get lost too easily; I fall into a routine, I scroll through my phone, I settle for merely occupying my time. But I’ve been trying to examine what actually makes me happy, and how I can translate that into the things that make me happy in the future (which is way harder than you would think it’d be???)

I’m coming to the halfway point of MIT. When I look back at the path I’ve taken, it looks exactly like the plot of a naive optimization function: many straight lines, all heading in not-quite-the-right direction, trying to converge on an unknown point. I only feel the tiniest bit of regret about the fact that every time I look back, I realize I didn’t take exactly the right path. Mostly, I’m glad to be here, and to be free to make mistakes and learn from them.

One of my friends recently wrote this, which really resonated with me: “… it never feels like one has changed, but rather that one has always been this way”. I can’t quite imagine the selves that made those slightly incorrect choices and started me down this particular section of path. And yet I know they were incorrect, so clearly, something has changed.

On a bad day, this loss of my previous selves (and therefore, the future loss of my current self) is scary; but on a good night, like tonight, it feels exciting. How grateful I am to get to be all these different versions of myself and try each one on for size. Like cooking (I swear I didn’t intend to make this connection when I started writing!), I’m iterating and improving — but each stage, as I go through it, is also enjoyable on its own. I know next semester, whatever shape it takes and whatever disappointments or struggles I go through, I’ll learn a lot about a lot of things, including myself.

It’s a good night, and I’m feeling good about the future and good about getting old.

I hope you can have some good nights, too.  Tonight I saw this sunset, and I wanted to share it with you. <3

The sunset seen from my back deck. The sky is yellow, pink, and purple; in the foreground is the silhouette of trees and standalone garages.