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.

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.

Female vs. male friendships

So I’m reading this book Girl Talk: What Science Can Tell Us About Female Friendships— it’s really interesting! It’s bringing up lots of things to think about– for example, how are friendships with women different from those with men? Lots of the findings really resonate with me, but also I’m thinking about how there are so often exceptions to the generalizations that we try to make based on evolution or our biology. Are these studies productive or limiting? Here are some of her findings:

  • “Men live in a much less intense social world than girls do. It’s a striking contrast. If you move to another town, girls will be on the phone constantly trying to keep that going. Whereas with guys, it’s out of side, out of mind.”
  • “…girls spend quality time talking with their friends, which enhances the emotional quality of their relationships. With men it doesn’t make a difference how much time they spend talking to their friends, because when you’re doing things together, you don’t need to talk.”
  • “Since women have much deeper relationships, they need to know more about their friends. They can predict how other women will respond if they do or say something. Because men don’t live in such an intimate social world, they don’t need to know these things, and thus, their relationships are much more casual.”
  • “This study also found that for women, friendship was a means to ‘express themselves and form their identity,’ while men wanted to get something out of their relationship, as in ‘what’s in it for me?’ Men were also found to be more inclined to base their friendships on social drinking.”

What do we do with these findings? In some ways, I think they can be pretty accurate and point out some interesting differences that I’ve definitely experienced at times throughout high school/college. But I also think about the many exceptions to these claims– is it problematic to make such broad generalizations about different genders? How can we acknowledge the biological/evolutionary differences between genders as well as the fundamental differences created by society, but also embrace the individuality and uniqueness of each person, regardless of gender?

Beethoven and Greene

I’m someone who has always loved hearing and learning stories, and ever since I was young, many of my favorite songs have been those with distinct, unique stories embedded in them. For me, the depth and coherence of a narrative structure can combine beautifully with the emotional and aesthetic intensity of music to create masterpieces of art. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that one of my favorite bands, Twiddle, has many songs that tell vivid stories to the listeners and feature a wide cast of iconic characters.

“Beethoven and Greene,” however, doesn’t have characters of its own, but instead is about stories in general and about how we are each the protagonists of our own life stories. As the song progresses, the lyrics bring the listener through the archetypal hero’s journey, while the structure mirrors a traditionally told story, repeated through generations.

Instead of creating a character of their own for “Beethoven and Greene,” Twiddle instead tells a story about “you.” In doing so, they make the hero’s journey more real and universal for listeners, as something that everyone can experience. This universality is also noticeable in the rather general, almost cliche aspects of adventure laid out in the song: leaving home on a train, a magic incantation, a gate that must be opened, and most centrally, the potion that grants the drinker their true self and best life. The potion, as the central focus of the song, represents everything that we hope to gain from the adventures of our lives: happiness, wisdom, purity, confidence, etc.

Aside from the hero’s journey nature of the lyrics, other elements of “Beethoven and Greene” suggest to me a story being told time and time again, undergoing changes but still suggesting the same universal truth of a quest towards betterment. Listening to the song for the first time, it’s unlikely that the listener will catch all of the details and specifics of the story, but will still be able to recognize its main theme and plot. This is especially true in for the first chorus. It’s dense and complex, and not easily sung along to, but in the first few listens I was still able to pick out “….all your past doubts….wake up and hope….a little sunshine….pick up and go,” where the pace slows down at the end of each line. This is just like when you’re being told a story by someone: many of the details are lost, but certain words, phrases, punchlines are remembered, along with the general theme and message of the story. When you then tell the story to someone else, you’ll likely add your own flair and details of your own, changing the story while keeping some core constant.

The second chorus comes into play here. It’s the easiest part of the lyrics to understand and learn, and thus takes the role of the core of the story. Even it is not immune to being changed, since the melody of the chorus is changed after it is sung once and this original melody is never repeated, but after the lengthy instrumental section, which I take to be a jump forward through time, it is all that remains of the lyrics, as the core of the story is carried into the future.

I could go on, there’s so much to this song, but this post has become a behemoth as is, so I’ll leave the rest for you to discover as you enter Beethoven and Greene!

You’re only given a little spark of madness and if you lose that, you’re nothing. – Robin Williams

Nothing Like a Library

Haskell Free Library, which straddles the border between the U.S. and Canada.

I can’t think of a place with more possible functions than a library. Throughout my life, it’s been a perfect location for hide-and-seek, alone time, contemplation on small or large scales, and entering worlds that could make me forget my sense of time, place–even selfhood. There has always been an inherent magic to exploring the labyrinth of towering shelves with the smell of old books in the air and new knowledge in every nook and cranny.

When applying to college, I began feeling overwhelmed and boxed in by the pressure to stand out. One evening, I drove to the public library so that I could remember how much bigger the world was and get lost in other stories. I returned home in an entirely new headspace, inspired to take a slightly different approach to my college essay. Unsurprisingly, it was the draft I ended up submitting.

When I heard this podcast episode (entitled, “The Room of Requirement”) on This American Life, it instantly resonated with me. But the magic of the libraries mentioned in the podcast is distinct from the magic I’m used to.

Imagine a library that allows anyone and everyone to drop off unpublished manuscripts. Or one that can reunite families separated by the travel ban. Though they might sound too good to be true, the podcast reveals that these places are, in fact, very real.

Nearly everyone has a unique story connected to libraries. It’s the kind of conversation topic that can lead down entirely unforeseen paths, but it’s worth inquiring. You never know what you might discover.

20 minutes after goodbye

Grace and I are still standing in the mission lobby late at night, with me wondering what types of conversations are the most meaningful. Girls love to talk to each other about their boy situations (in fact, that happens on most of our runs), but is that frivolous? Should we be talking about “more important things” than boys? But what does “more important” mean? What “should” we be talking about? And what are the point of conversations anyway? Are they only to get closer to the people one is talking to, or is the goal to have an epiphany about life or a topic? What is the “best” conversation? It feels like for every type, there could be a criticism. About boys? Too frivolous. About class? Too nerdy. About the future? Too practical. About politics? Too distant from life (or not). Maybe every type has its own value.

The finish line or the journey

This isn’t a unique struggle, the struggle between enjoying the moment and working towards a goal. Two examples from my life of late:

  • I wanted to climb as many of the 14ers (mountains above 14,000 feet) in Colorado. But in my obsession to climb all of them, did I stop enjoying each hike for its own beauty?
  • There are so many books on my to-read list. When reading books is something to check off a to-do list, could it interfere with my love of reading?

Steve Rogers and the Trolley Problem


Upon watching Avengers: Infinity War for the first time since seeing it in the theater, there was one particular line that struck me the most. When the Avengers are discussing the impending threat of Thanos, Vision suggests destroying the Mind Stone (and him with it) in order to keep the powerful stone out of Thanos’s hands. Captain America immediately disagrees, heroically: “we don’t trade lives, Vision.” That more or less ends that debate, and sets up for a memorable reversal of the line later when Vision saves Cap’s life. However, I’m not sure I can agree with Steve Rogers’s pristine moral code in this case

The reason for my criticism is simple. Isn’t trading lives exactly what the Avengers are doing in the Battle of Wakanda? They can’t have seriously expected all of the Wakandan soldiers to survive the fight, the purpose of which was ultimately to save Vision’s life by extracting the Mind Stone from his head. And it’s not as if the Avengers are unaware of what’s at stake here: Thanos’s quest to kill half of all the universe’s life is spelled out to them in the same conversation as the aforementioned quote. It’s Vision’s (single) life that’s on the line directly, weighed against the several hundred Wakandan soldiers who put their lives at risk to protect him, as well as half the universe if Thanos were to succeed. This seems like a pretty simple formula to me, and I don’t think our heroes can be completely absolved for not paying heed to it.

You (Probably) Don’t Exist

This is one of my favorite videos of exurb1a‘s. His other stuff also often comes back to the theme of “it might seem like life sucks, but existence in this day and age is so precious and unlikely that we should live and love and laugh anyway.”

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