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MIT blogger CJ Q. '23

The long view by CJ Q. '23

days, months, years

And then I asked him, “What’s the most unexpected thing about adulthood?”

“Good or bad?” he said.

“Either, I guess.”

Silence stretched between us.

“Probably,” he whispered, “that I’ve started to think like an old person.”

On Saturday the Puzzle Club ran an event where we solved puzzles from an issue of P&A Magazine together. The last time the Puzzle Club worked on a P&A issue was last semester. Miscommunication meant that two people both ordered food for the event. I was worried we would have had too much. But the food was just enough. The event lasted four hours, so we needed more food than I anticipated anyway.

On Sunday night I ate dinner at Dumpling House with some friends. It’s only been a month since I last went to Dumpling House. I was meeting up with a group walking from the west side of campus, so with me living in the east side, we were going to meet along Mass Ave. I arrived at Mass Ave shortly before finding out they had just left, fifteen minutes after I was initially told they’d leave. I waited on some random sidewalk for another fifteen minutes, before we continued walking.

On Monday morning I got a haircut from Kendall Barbers. George, my barber, mused about how long my hair’s grown. I told him that my last haircut probably happened last summer. He laughed. He was apologetic for taking so long to cut my hair, when it had only been half an hour.

“Think like an old person?” I asked. “What do you mean?”

“Well,” he said, “in college, I always thought of hours and days. There’s hour, hour, hour, and sometimes, day, day, day.”

“But now?”

“Now it’s week, week, week.” He paused. “Month, month, month. Quarter after quarter after quarter. It reminds me of a conversation I had at my first internship.”

“Your first internship? That must’ve been years ago,” I said.

“I hadn’t even turned eighteen, at the time. I was talking to a coworker who was over fifty.” He stared wistfully at the ceiling. “She talked about years. How there were things that she did every two years, every four years. And I haven’t even experienced eighteen years.”

On Monday I had an appointment with MIT Medical, to get the irregular vertigo I’ve had checked out. The last time I’ve been to a physician of any sorts had been before I came to MIT, three years ago. The nurse referred me to an ear-nose-throat specialist.

On Tuesday I called the nearest ENT clinic to set up an appointment. It took fifteen minutes to relay all my demographic information over the phone. The first open slot was in six weeks.

On Wednesday I had an appointment with my therapist. The depressive symptoms haven’t come up for months now, I said. I’m genuinely feeling okay, I said. We scheduled our next appointment to happen after a month.

On Thursday I got around to doing an experiment I’ve always wanted to try: be blindfolded for 24 hours, inspired by a blog post I read. It’s been nine months since I first read that post, but I only got the time to do it now. I blocked the whole day out of my calendar and spent the next 24 hours doing mostly nothing.

“In college, everything has an end. You take a class, and it ends. The research project you’re working on has an end. The semester has an end. College has an end. Work isn’t like that. There’s always more work.

“In college, you have breaks. Spring break, summer break, winter break, holiday, holiday, holiday. You know when the breaks will come, when finals will come, when you can relax and cram.

“Work isn’t like that. I don’t know when I can take a break, or when the stress will come.”

On Friday a friend who was once an upperclassman visited. He graduated two years ago, and is now working remotely at a startup. I had blocked the whole night for hanging out with him, from 6 PM to midnight.

He talked about his work, and for that I was grateful; I wanted to hear about it. I wanted to know more about what it was like, being alone in a world outside the auspices of MIT. He confessed that not much was different. That he sometimes felt like a child acting out the role of someone twice his age.

I asked him about his schedule. As he didn’t have strict hours, how did he structure his work days? He said that he tries to not have anything scheduled in the evenings and weekends. He said that the nature of the job, though, meant that he blocked out mornings or afternoons. That his calendar was blocked not by hours, but by days.

Despite all this, he was happy with his work. He enjoyed being respected by others. He had glowing praise for his coworkers, and thought of them as cool people. He talked about how much he’d been learning, about programming and management, and all sorts of things he never thought he would learn.

And then I asked him, “What’s the most unexpected thing about adulthood?”

Yesterday, the Filipino Students Association held a karaoke event. Last night, some friends from a summer camp I went to were in town, and we stayed up until 3 AM playing board games.

Today, I was supposed to do more work, but I lost track of time reading A Practical Guide to Evil. Only a few chapters, I told myself. Soon enough six hours had passed.

Six hours. Six whole hours. That felt like a lot of time. But in the grand scheme of things, maybe it wasn’t a lot of time.

And maybe one could have said that of spring break. Nine days. Nine whole days. That felt like a lot of time. But in the grand scheme of things, maybe it wasn’t a lot of time.

What if I wanted it to be a lot of time? What if I didn’t want to see my hours and days fade to weeks and months or years and decades? Is six hours a lot of time? Nine days? A summer? Four years?

He broke the minute of silence with a question. “Why do you ask?” he said. “I assume you’ve talked to other people about these kinds of things—adulthood, working, growing up.”

“I haven’t,” I said. “You’re the only person with an actual job that I talked to about these things.”

“Why ask me?” he asked.

“I dunno. I think I see myself in you. I think I’m trying to decide—

“Maybe,” my psychiatrist said, “this behavior comes from that same avoidance, of thinking about the future. And so you avoid thinking about next summer, or next semester, or what happens after you graduate.

“Which is understandable. You’re worried about what will happen with all these things you care about once you leave. But I wonder if it’s something more than that. Maybe it’s because MIT was the first place you’ve found a home in, and so you’re reluctant to think about leaving that behind.”

He looked at me, waiting for a response.

“Yeah,” I croaked, holding back tears. “Yeah, that’s it. Part of me is scared that the real world won’t be anywhere near as good as it is for me now. That things are going too well for me, and once I leave MIT, the other shoe will drop. That I’ll end up somewhere feeling alone, and lonely, and sad, and then I’d be right back where I started.”

“—whether I want to be an adult.” I said.

“Whether you want to be an adult,” he repeated. “As opposed to what? What would you be, then?”

“A kid,” I replied. “I’d be a kid forever. I just need to figure out how.”