“A Pile of Contradictions”

How my beloved high school cross country coach was described and how I strive to allow myself to be: to be content with holding contradictory beliefs at the same time; to not have everything figured out; to be O.K. with having my mind made up about something one day and changing it the next…I don’t think it’s being “wishy washy” or “noncommittal”  if you are honest the whole time about your ambivalence. Being ambivalent doesn’t mean you can’t say things, make decisions, take leaps of faith amidst the uncertainty (you almost certainly will be forced to by the outside world who is not privy to your inner turmoil).

You can’t ever know all of the facts and so, to not take a chance on somebody, to not chase a dream, to not board a plane, to not vote, to not speak up, etc. because you are not 100% certain that it will work out or that you will be “right” would equal a pretty passive existence, in my opinion. Three things help me to come to peace (at least a little) with all of the unknowns before I make a decision: 1) Trust that my gut and intuition tell me more than I realize 2) Consider all of the things I’ve learned through hindsight in the past and remember that experience is often the best teacher. 3) There is no one way to live!

Talk to enough people and you’ll realize that there are perfectly sane, supremely interesting people living lives every which number of ways: married to their high school sweetheart, single and thriving, teaching, engineering, doing marketing, doing social work, believing in God, not believing in God, living close to their family, living far apart from their family, listening to country music, listening to rap music, voting one way, voting the other, etc.

I strive to expose myself to and keep my mind open to all the different ways there are to live, think about, and love this one life we each have. I want to learn from all the people I meet and possibly have my mind changed that “oh, this is actually, in fact, how I want to live, too.” But, I want to be careful not to become insecure in my beliefs or decisions JUST because they don’t line up with someone else’s or because they seem contradictory…those reasons have nothing to do with the strength or the validity of the decisions/beliefs themselves (and maybe more about the current environment I’m in). At the end of the day, only I know what all went into making a decision or holding a belief and so only I can know if it feels right or if maybe, I want to change in the future.

Examples of two contradictory lyrics from two very popular songs!

One kiss is all it takes, falling in love with me.

Calvin Harris and Dua Lipa, One Kiss

It started out with a kiss

How did it end up like this?

It was only a kiss, it was only a kiss

The Killers, Mr. Brightside

analog

At the end of last year I decided to delete my social media for good. I had been drifting in this direction for a little while, and in May I finally took the plunge. Disclaimer: I don’t mean to leave anyone with the impression that I am anti-social media; this is just my own journey.

To tell the full story, I’ll go back to sophomore year of high school: I had just transferred from the school system that I had attended for ten years to be closer to home, and it was the first time in my memory that I was truly new. 15 years old and nervous about making a good impression at my new school, I decided that the surest way to make friends would be to have a presence on “social networking.” It seemed like people talked about Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter, so I quickly signed up for all four, and waited. They were a background presence on my phone and in my mind. I didn’t post much on Instagram and I completely failed to understand Snapchat, so I was always more of a passive user. I did end up making friends at my new school, but most of that happened in person: sitting together at lunch, working on a project for class, hanging out in the stands after marching band practice. I wasn’t super involved in social media during high school; it was just kind of there. When I arrived at Williams at the beginning of freshman year, I became a little self-conscious about not understanding social media culture. Would everyone in college ignore me if I didn’t answer their Snapchats fast enough? But as freshman year progressed, I made friends and eventually Williams felt like home—and all of that was based on talking to people. I still wasn’t good at social media, so at the end of spring semester I finally deleted all my accounts for good. It felt right, and I didn’t think much of it over the summer.

Being back on campus this year has felt profoundly different. I’m more at ease just by virtue of familiarity, my classes are fascinating, I love my room and my roommate, and it’s amazing to spontaneously hang out with my friends again in the beautiful Berkshires. On top of all that, I just noticed that this is the first time I’m approaching Williams without a trace on social media. As the semester starts, I’ve heard people mentioning a Facebook poster for a campus event, or someone’s cool Instagram story, and I’ve started to wonder if maybe I am missing out on something. After all, the part of you that you share on social media is a part of you. Am I not seeing that part at all now that I can’t scroll past it, or does social media just highlight a part of someone that is less obvious in person? I have zero regrets about deleting social media; it never worked for me, and I’m glad I realized that. But after abruptly ending a background presence in my life that had been there for four years, I haven’t figured out quite yet how to interact with the world without it.

Passive Activity

I was sitting by myself in Paresky at lunch today when I started thinking about what I do when I’m not doing anything. When I’m eating by myself in particular, I feel rather self-conscious when I’m not doing something other than eating, when I’m not doing another passive activity at the same time. Typically taking the form of listening to music, working on schoolwork/readings for class, or being on my phone in general, I think most people feel a similar impulse to be doing something at all times. It honestly felt great for me to put my phone and books away for 20 minutes and just sit there, hum a tune, watch the rest of the bustling world around me.

I’m sure technology and “those darn phones” play their roles in this constant need for stimulation and activity. I bet another factor is the fact that we live in the place where we work basically all the time at Williams. There’s not much geographic separation between our school-business and the rest of our lives. There’s also, of course, the social expectation that we’re always at least thinking about our work. We have a reputation to live up to, after all!

I certainly don’t want to shame people with this post, and I don’t even necessarily want to argue that being on your phone isn’t a valuable use of down time, but I do want to impress that I think that noticing what your default passive activities are can be a really good way to start developing better habits and figuring out how you want to spend your time.

For instance, over the summer I decided I wanted to read more books, and so I started replacing other passive activities with reading. Instead of needing to sit down for 20-page sessions at a time, I’d just read a couple pages whenever I was between doing other things. It worked really well: I got through several great books over the summer, and I remembered what was going on in these books much better, since I was spending time with them more often. Back at school, unfortunately my leisure reading has largely fallen off, but I’ve started a new habit of going to the Music Center during study breaks and playing piano, something that I’m not seeking any particular end goal with, but just doing for the fun of it. Ultimately, I think a lot of our days can be sucked up into time that we would prefer/find more fulfilling to spend in different ways, and so the first step to carpeing the heck out of your diems is to take a look at what you’re doing when you’re not doing anything.

Watching campus breathe

I’ve found a new favorite spot on campus: the grass in front of Griffin, facing WCMA. It’s not a study spot, or a place to meet friends; it’s a place where I can just be. I found it a couple of days ago when I was early to a 7pm class, and the light over the mountains was so beautiful I couldn’t go inside to wait for class to start. Instead, I just sat there in the grass and took in the rhythm of campus. From here I can see the sky changing over West; a perfectly framed picture of the mountains past the football field through the space between WCMA and Fay; students and professors and dog-walkers scurrying along the sidewalks; the bustle of Route 2; the WCMA eyes. I’ve come to see the eyes differently this year. Last year they felt unnerving, like spectators placed in the middle of everything to keep us under their watchful gaze. But for some reason, the once-menacing jets of light now seem like a beacon in the night, and the seats are remarkably soft for cold stone. From my spot in the grass, gazing back at the eyes and all the life going on around them, I feel like I’m watching campus breathe.

The Depth of Human Experience

***NOTE: I was partially inspired to put this post together after finishing the excellent anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion. To say any more would involve spoilers, but what I talk about here is a major theme of the show, so if you’re interested in what you read, definitely check it out!***

On our “About The Blog” page, some brilliant friend of Grace’s is quoted: “Don’t you think there’s a lot to us all?” I absolutely think so, and I’ve been spending some time this summer thinking about just how much that is. And the more I think about it, the more staggeringly vast individual consciousness and experience seems to me! We each have a universe inside of our heads. There is so, so much going on constantly within us, that often can’t be seen by others around us. I definitely think we overestimate the extent to which we can understand or be understood by others, just because our experience of ourselves is so so much deeper than what can be projected in a typical social setting.

Is it any wonder that giving advice is so hard, when every person’s individual experience is so unique? Is it any wonder that intimacy is so hard when only a tiny tip of the iceberg of a person’s soul is bared to anyone outside of themselves at a given time? Is it any wonder that everyone feels insecure or unconfident sometimes when that tip is usually the best our superego has to offer, and we’re all too aware of what else lies hidden underneath?

Thinking this way probably isn’t actually going to change my interactions with others all that much, but I definitely think there are real insights to be made by considering the rich, complex, and subjective worlds that each person has all to themselves.

Be a walking contradiction.

This quote resonated with me as I often try to make sense of the very different parts of myself, attempting to cross out some that don’t “work” with the “cooler” or “better” other parts. Who is to say they don’t work? And who is to say the other parts are “cooler” or “better”?

Beautiful, Beautiful Windows into People

Humans of New York: The Series. The one below is on Parenting. There are so many other themes covered, all breathtaking and unique in their own ways. If you ever lose your faith in the humanity of humanity, look no further.

Post-Hamilton Thoughts

Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton played by Leslie Odom Jr. and Lin Manuel Miranda (respectively) in the original Broadway Hamilton cast

I was lucky enough to get to see Hamilton, the brilliant musical, with my long-time friend and her family in San Francisco. What struck me was how a lot of fights/duels had to do as much with divergent views for the nation as the divergent personalities of the Founding Fathers. From the get-go, Aaron Burr hated how Alexander Hamilton talked so much. And from Burr’s advice, you could tell he was a fraud, a sell-out.

I don’t want to be like Aaron Burr— “a guy you can get a beer with,” but who doesn’t have any strong beliefs on any topic and can be wishy-washy to conform to or please whoever he’s around.

But I also don’t want to be (nor could really be because I’m not that sharp-witted and unfiltered enough) like my friend and her brother, who are more like Hamilton. They let their very blunt, often downright harsh opinions loose all the time, albeit in an extremely smart, funny way. They make me laugh even though I know I probably shouldn’t be laughing. When I express this, they stretch me to question where I’m getting the idea that I “shouldn’t” be laughing at/saying something. They make me want to let my guard down more because it can be way more fun and carefree to just say whatever you’re thinking (even if what comes out of your mouth will never be as witty or sharp as what comes out of theirs no matter how much Mrs. Maisel or Robin Williams comedy specials or rap battles you watch).

I do think that some of their character judgements or opinions about things we’ve just seen can be quickly formed, short-sighted and/or pessimistic, not seeing a situation/person in all its complexity. But you can’t say that they don’t take a side. You know exactly where they stand. And they do always have a lot of readings/research, which are summoned by their top-knotch memories (JEALOUS), to back up their HOT takes.

I want to qualify and filter less and be more vocal and outspoken about things I care about, which means researching/reading/discussing more. At the same time, I don’t want to sacrifice my abilities to listen and appreciate that the world is rarely black and white and that’s what makes it beautiful.

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