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MIT blogger CJ Q. '23

There is a bench by CJ Q. '23

it’s a nice bench

The rhythm sets in.

It’s a steady rhythm. Roll out of bed at ten in the morning. Quickly assemble breakfast. Head to lecture. Cook lunch, or buy lunch, and work on my problem set in the lounge at our floor. Head to more lectures, or recitations. Then a student group gives an information session; then later, another student group hosts an event; and later, yet another student group has a meeting. There are free dinners in each one of these events.

Or I’m going to one of my discovery classes in the evenings. Or I’m square dancing. (This is my PE class.) Or I’m eating dinner out with friends. Or I’m playing board games with people, or hanging out in the lounge, or working on a pset, or walking to Hayden to get something printed, or having a late night conversation with someone in Killian Court.

That was my rhythm on Wednesday. Then Thursday. Friday. Saturday rolled in: I joined a LARP, watched a play, played some board games. Sunday: I went shopping, participated in a hall meeting, walked to Next House, talked to some friends. Then the rhythm, on Monday. Then Tuesday. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.

A march of things to do, every minute of the day wrangled and set aside for a specific purpose, a specific event. Filling my Google Calendar like a stamp collector would fill their collection. Every poster an event I could go to; every email to dormspam an opportunity for something new; every second of the day a slot I needed to fill; I wanted to partake in everything new that I could, to funnel all of this energy I had into something, somewhere, to do stuff, and

I enjoyed it. I enjoyed this rhythm, believe me, I really liked having things to do all day, every day, but

the weekend rolled in. Saturday. No events that I wanted to go to were happening on campus. Didn’t see any of my friends hanging out in the lounges. Didn’t have any psets to work on. None of my friends were free to talk, or hang out.

I walk to Kresge, knowing that HackMIT is happening. Who knows, maybe I’d see some of my friends? And I’m right: I see a friend from Harvard who was attending Hack. He’s lining up for lunch with the rest of his team. And we talk, for a bit. But he is soon swept up by the line growing behind him, and then I don’t see him any more.

I head into the Stud to grab some lunch. A friend, an upperclassman, is there. I tell him that I don’t have anything to do, that all of my friends are busy.

“There’ll only be more of that as the semester continues,” he says.

So. I take a walk.

I go down Mass Ave and cross the Harvard Bridge. Today, there are people sailing on the river. Cross on the left side, because it’s the left side that has the ramp. (The left side, when you’re coming from MIT. The same side as the dome. You’ll be facing the traffic.) Walking down this ramp leads to the Charles River Esplanade.

Then turn left. Walk a little bit and there are two small playgrounds, with plastic slides and black circular benches that hug the trees. Walk a little more and there’s a small park, with stone walkways and some sort of monument. By the river, there’s this floating, wooden platform.

There are several people sitting on the platform, this afternoon. There often are. If you sit on this platform and look straight ahead, you’ll be staring right at the Green Building. (The tallest building on campus, that pillar rising up from the sea of trees. For my FPOP, we had an activity on top of the Green Building. It was pretty fun.)

I lie down and look at the sky, and it is gray. All around me, it’s this blue gray color, this bright light filling all the edges of my vision. If you look around, it’s like looking at this ring of city surrounding this blue gray sky lake.

(The thought comes to mind: gravity is the only thing tethering us to this world, the only thing preventing us from falling into this lake. Where have I heard that thought before? I think it’s scrawled in marker on one of the pillars in 41 West, in one of the lounges I spent a lot of time in my first two weeks doing work in.)

If you walk a little more, you’ll see a small bridge. It leads to a small patch of land. On top of the bridge you get to see a part of the river flowing in between these two patches of land, and it’s pretty, but it’s not what I came here for.

On this patch of land, there are several benches.

The leftmost one is my favorite.

there's a bench. it's surrounded by trees and water. in the distance are some sailboats, and even further in the distance is mit.

I sit down on the bench and stare at the campus. I’m reminded of what my friend told me a couple days ago. “We’re surrounded by the city, but isolated from it.” There was the campus. Right in front of me. But two thousand feet away.

(Or, three hundred and sixty-five smoots away. I remember the first time I heard about smoots, two or three years ago; the story of measuring a bridge with one’s height. The plus or minus one ear, that joke on measurement uncertainty; through one way or another, it says something about MIT if the people there deem it funny enough to immortalize on a plaque. [Perhaps this realization I picked up through osmosis as well.])

On the bench there is a plaque with two names. I don’t remember their names, but the plaque commemorates their fiftieth anniversary. (It brings to mind a thought of a life beyond MIT, that after these four years I have hopefully fifty more years of life lined up in front of me, and hopefully many more—that many of the feelings I have right now are going to be mere pencil marks in the painting being built out of my life—

[The bubbling realization that everything that’s happened to me in the past few weeks, that a huge portion of my life for the next four years, will happen in that small space in front of me, the handful of square meters that is the MIT campus. That each year, hundreds of breakups and breakdowns, celebrations and losses, a thousand wonderful experiences, all happen in that small space. (I say that I come from a small city, but MIT is more than a hundred times smaller—)])

Maybe I made a mistake. I, the infinitely wise first-year, would talk about scheduling time for myself, only to find myself a week and a half later with this large block of free time, with nothing to do. Maybe I’m guilty of pretending to know what I’m doing, pretending to know what I’m talking about; guilty of trying to sound deep. Maybe I’m worrying too much; maybe I’m overthinking. But maybe, maybe—

(There’s pressure, you see, of wanting to explore because it’s P/NR [short for pass/no record; if you pass the class then only P appears on your transcript, and if not then there’s no record you took it]. Because you hear the horror stories of upperclassmen being too hosed, too busy with their academics to explore, it brings up the feeling that maybe it’s the only time of your life when you can explore, [and hence

the feeling of wanting to fill every moment of the day with something, that nagging feeling that if you’re not doing anything, you’re not making the most out of P/NR, you’re not maximizing your time here, you hear all this advice about college being the only time of your life when your only obligation is to study, all these worries about not wanting to waste it, this fear of missing out (or mis-optimizing), (but have you considered

that maybe the seniors are hosed because they are constantly trying new things, because they’ve found things that they liked doing? It’s just a possibility, but,) but have you considered that maybe this isn’t the only time of your life that you can explore? That maybe, there is life after college, hopefully fifty years and hopefully many more,] but have you considered

that maybe you’re overthinking all of this? That you’re just a first-year, or, you’re on P/NR, or, you’ve only been here for a month, or, you’re worrying too much, or—

[but have I considered—]

rain starts falling, five minutes after I sat down. I take out the jacket from my bag and put it on, and start walking back the way I came. The jacket keeps me dry for long enough, dry until I make it back to East Campus, dry until I’m in my room. I hang my jacket and I sit down in front of my laptop and stay in my room for the rest of the day.

Sunday comes around. I eat lunch. I spend all day in my room again. I don’t try to take a walk. I eat dinner.

There are people hanging out in the lounge again.

 

It’s Monday. I roll out of bed at ten in the morning. Quickly assemble breakfast. Head to lecture. Buy lunch. Work on my pset in the lounge. Head to recitation, then another lecture. Later, it’s a blogger check-in meeting; later still, it’s one of my discovery classes; after that, there’s tea time in our floor lounge. There is food in each one of these events.

It’s Tuesday. I roll out of bed. Make breakfast. To lecture. To the library. Make lunch. Work on a pset. A lecture. A meeting. PE. Then Wednesday, then Thursday.

The rhythm sets in. It’s a steady rhythm.)

—maybe everything will be okay, after all.