“I think I should have a midlife crisis a little earlier,” I said today, while my friends and I were walking down the river to Trader Joe’s.
[I’ve been planning for a while to have a midlife crisis and switch to 21E. It may happen slowly, where semester after semester I take a few classes that fulfill me instead of the ones that are required, and eventually my advisor sits me down and says, “Amber, you have not completed sufficient 2A credits,” to which I respond, “You’re right,” and submit my 21E application. Or it may happen all at once, after this summer, when I decide to take only the classes that make me happiest, which will include some MechE classes, and something at Harvard, and something to do with writing.]
I don’t entirely like this rush of one thing and then another, too many projects to finish. My shelf feels like it will never be completed because there are so many steps, and my room will never be organized and the tensegrity table will take five-ever and the light-up lyra will not be all that good or clever. And when I’m blocking out my schedule I need to account for at least two days to sit down and grind out p-sets, thirty percent of my week.
Completing those psets will not make me satisfied. I will bask in exhausted we-did-it glory the night of, when a thing is not entirely finished but we are finished, and it’s enough to scrape an A. I live on inevitability, the sense that a thing will get done if I show up, and struggle until it’s done, and maybe sometimes it’ll get done well. I’ll be happy in the moments where I feel like I’ve learned something.
If I could complete all those projects, do them quickly and well and pick up skills on the way, that would be lovely, but it wouldn’t be enough. Of course it wouldn’t be. Welding metal will not ever actually compare to writing novels, for me.
It’s not like I really forgot that.
I remember freshman spring, I’d cut out every weekend to write. But the writing wasn’t good enough, when I could only work on it one day per week. The scenes weren’t flowing. I know how my novels take shape, and I know that working at that rate doesn’t work for me. I’d have to cut big chunks of it. I’d wind up doing more work overall if I wrote it that way, than if I waited for a time in my life when my novel would have space to breathe.
In short, I couldn’t write novels during the semester. There was simply too much else happening.
And the thing is, I don’t think that will change.
Except that the semester alone isn’t really enough to educate you in meche, either. You don’t have time for personal projects (or you might, if you took fewer classes. If you gave up another thing).
Which means that you should spend IAP writing. Not that six weeks is enough time, either. And you were, for the first time in your life, too exhausted to write when winter break came.
Anyway now the semester is starting, and I’m looking down three months of working extremely hard at something I sort of care about, and will potentially come to care about more, when it has more of a positive feedback loop. I will come out of this semester with a lot more skills, a deeper confidence in my abilities, a stronger sense of direction, perhaps, in terms of career. A strong friend group, a wide net of relationships. And a sense that I have not worked on anything deeply fulfilling in nine months.
I’m not sure how to fix that.
Chucking a writing class in among my five other classes, fall semester, was not the solution. I didn’t actually write anything new, just pulled vital scenes from my existing novel for critique.
My freshman fall, I took two technicals and two HASS classes, and felt like writing was a struggle but I managed it a few nights a week. I wrote some stories which I really value. But freshman fall was over zoom, and the psets were manageable on my own, and there weren’t as many other activities taking place. I also had a stable workout routine then.
I could take two technicals and two HASSes in perpetuity. It’s not the norm at MIT, but then again the norm is being a 6-3, and not all norms are for me.
I’m afraid to try, because there’s the real risk that even with that balance I wouldn’t have enough time, between all the other activities I do now that we’re on campus, and then I’d end the semester not having written and not having suffered to the maximum amount. (Maybe maximized suffering is not the goal? In fact it may not be. However ‘living a balanced life with both sleep and building things but still no writing’ doesn’t quite sound like the goal, either).
Of course I would never feel like I had enough time. Professional writers do not feel that way. VE Schwab, Neil Gaiman, Brandon Sanderson all blog about this, and they write faster than me.
Still, I recall feeling happier when I could think up stories and mill them through my mind, write notes on paper and on Drive that distill the vibe, and eventually craft something real. I want that feeling back. I don’t want to wait until summer.
Right now I’m signed up for 2.007 (robotics), 2.005 (thermo), 2.003 (dynamics), 21H.132 (Roman history), 21L.434 (sci-fi and Afrofuturism books), and WGS.275 (race, gender, and the environment). I will drop two of these. I promise. (I do not believe internally that I will actually do this. But I do believe that I will not really absorb much of the HASS classes if I try to take all six).
Maybe a balanced life with sleep, building things, and reading books and contemplating the concept of writing something is closer to the goal. Though it is not the actual goal.
When I am writing, I sleep and I run, because I write better when my body is cared for. I write better when I spend time with people. When I’m not writing, I don’t actually know what matters, whether it’s having fun or talking to people or getting work done.
I’m not sure what the actual goal is, right now; what is achievable, what would make me happiest.
I think there exists a potential version of me who never touched science after high school, who spent her energies learning screenwriting and history, meeting people and drinking up different atmospheres, so that she could write stories that were vibrant and varied. I think she would feel like she was missing something. It’d be an itch she couldn’t quite scratch. She’d be good at blacksmithing and wonder, ‘what else could I make?’
Or rather, ‘what else could I have made, had I taken a different path?’
I do like science. I don’t regret learning MechE. But sometimes I wonder if the holes opening up all over, the history and literature and political thought I haven’t pursued nearly enough, are worth it. If this STEM version of me is not losing too much of who I want to be.
The lucky thing here is that I can always change tracks. History and literature will be waiting. And both versions of me would be happy. For now I can merely try to steer the ship, navigate a path between the two that leaves neither one starved.