threshold

I finished my senior fall about two weeks ago. It was by far the hardest semester I’ve experienced at Swarthmore, but at the same time, it has come the most easily to me. I’ve gone through most obstacles in a sort of half-sleep – I know the ins and outs of Swat like the back of my hand, so much so that I feel a heightened and therefore dangerous sense of importance. So much has happened in the past three months and I’m not sure where to start, so I guess I’ll just list it all out.

  • I have grown far more emotionally independent since the beginning of the semester. Unlike my experiences in “quartered,” I have spent the end of this semester almost exclusively alone and have been quite fine with my self-sequestration. The things that I used to do to pass the time – playing video games, watching Netflix – no longer seem to capture my attention, but I’ve been reading NW in my downtime and I’m quite enjoying it. (Edit: I finished NW, it was good. Smith writes a lot like I do, which makes me feel more assured in my work.) I’ve been going to counseling at Worth all semester, as well as avoiding situations which frequently put me in unsavory positions. Of course, it’s impossible to avoid the “unsavory,” but I find that I am filled with far less regret and anguish than previous semesters. Part of it has been avoiding social situations where I feel “conscripted” to do certain things (e.g. get drunk, fraternize, be an approachable and sociable human), and finding solace in the fact that I am no less of a good person for not enjoying these situations. I occasionally go out to PubNite or a party and get a little too drunk (which means a 4/10, honestly), but I find that I don’t feel compelled to seek out certain kinds of social approval from others, therefore lessening the persistent tug-of-war between individual and society. I am learning to accept myself in small pieces, learning to find joy in my weirdness and to look less at myself in disdain. It’s a lengthy process, with ups and downs, but I’m getting there, at my own pace. I don’t need to know how quickly you’re getting to where you need to be. It has no influence on my own rhythm, shouldn’t.
  • Do you ever say something over and over and over again until it loses its meaning and sounds kind of like gobbledygook? “He’s not cheating on me;” “She’s perfect for me;” “I am a good person.” That’s essentially how I feel about writing grad school applications. I’ve been applying to grad school this entire semester, and I’m so glad to say I’m done. The entire process has just been so clandestine and obscure, like bumping around in a giant room lit up only by a candle. I had this constant feeling of not knowing what I was doing, of being somehow misguided, but I would look around and see that I appeared to have a lot more of a sense of my bearings than anyone else. Of course, that could just be the blinders.

  • I’ve been relaxing at home for the past week and a half. My car – read: my mom’s car – hasn’t been working, so I’ve been stranded, but surprisingly I’m not stir-crazy. Not being able to jump in the car and drive to the library or to Starbucks to work is annoying, but I have actually been relatively productive in the week or so that I’ve been away from school. I haven’t been working on my thesis much this semester because of all my other obligations, and I told myself I would sit down and edit the three chapters I was supposed to do over the course of the semester. I expected it to take a week to do each chapter, but I managed to do the first chapter – which required me to translate, and then edit – in two days… So now I’m trying to find things to do in the interim. I’ve been reading, and may write a post about what I’ve read, although I’ve never been much of a reviewer.
  • I’m in this weird “waiting” period right now and I really don’t like it. I’m in the process of hearing back from all my schools and it’s annoying because I’ve never been a patient person. This entire process has also been bizarre because one of my jobs at Swarthmore involves helping a group of high school students from nearby Chester apply to college. I’ve been having flashbacks about my own college application process, and it’s all been quite disconcerting. For one, I didn’t have this sort of perpetual anxiety about getting in somewhere because I had gotten into the University of Pittsburgh by the end of September and to Tulane by late November of my senior year. Therefore, as I was applying to Harvard and UChicago – I wasn’t admitted to either school, although I was deferred, which I still think is cruel – I didn’t have to worry about going somewhere, because if push came to shove, I would go to Pitt with a decent scholarship. Then Howard came through, with a very generous scholarship, but I knew I wouldn’t enjoy going to Howard, knowing the person I Nonetheless, I don’t have that safety net now. I don’t even have a backup plan – I haven’t really looked at jobs, nor have I gotten in my mind that I should begin to even think about jobs. I have played all my cards on this grad school journey, and I am really nervous… I do think I will get in somewhere, though. I am confident enough about my applications and my research, and think that I am a competitive candidate. But being the impatient control freak that I am, existing without absolute certainty is kind of disheartening. I got an email from Berkeley saying I should know by February 1, which would make Berkeley the first to hit me up again. We’ll see then.
  • I am getting a little more serious about my creative writing. It’s partly from looking at other people in my life and feeling envious, and partly because I think what I have is actually good enough to submit. Every piece I write seems to be “the best thing I’ve written,” trumping the project which previously held that title in its nuance, in its realism, in its creativity. I’m still relatively self-conscious about my work, although last semester and the semester before I went abroad I was getting all sorts of kudos on my prose. I still do not know how to accept compliments or admiration from others. I find that I awkwardly say “thank you, thank you, I really appreciate it” only to be sort of looked at, as if the applauder expected more. Maybe they want some sort of story about the piece’s production, some heartbreaking anecdote which forced me to sit down at my laptop one afternoon and just type until my fingers got numb. Or maybe they want me to interrogate them, to ask them about how they received the characters, if they picked up on the subtle nuances. It likely isn’t that, although I can never be sure. I usually just let people tell me what they think I want to hear, and move on from there. Maybe people don’t want me to do anything at all, just want to express to me that they read my work and enjoyed it, even if they didn’t. I don’t really know what people want, or what most interactions I’m one of those people who can’t tell if you’re hitting on them or not, and so they just sort of assume that everyone either universally is or is not. For the most part, I’m an is person and that has led to its own slew of problems.
  • I am not sure I have made many new friends this semester. I suppose I should say close I have made several friends this semester, and I am grateful to have these new people in my life. It makes me feel like I’m worthy of having friends at all. This semester has been the first time when I haven’t been busy looking at other people and sizing myself up, mostly because I have been so independent and untethered. I used to look at my friends and their friends and say “damn, I should get some more friends, I can’t just be with these three people” and then junior year, I made several new friends, and this semester, too. I actually have my own friend groups, now, and it’s not just a sort of hodgepodge of friend-clusters contained within the same social sphere – the Black Swatties. But still, I don’t know if I’ve made any “close” friends but that may be because I have reassessed what it means to be my “close” friend and have found that such relationships are unsustainable. I find that I want too much from my friends, and consider myself an emotional leech of sorts, insofar that I find that an exchange of emotions – most noxiously, suffering – is the best way of binding people together. This was such an issue my sophomore year, because there were people in my life who wanted that sort of bond that I ignored while I was trying to force it onto others. And when I succeeded in fabricating that bond, that emotional parasitism, I found that I was the one who was negatively affected. This is the reason why I’ve been so steadfast about being emotionally independent – I personally can’t afford to rely on people to support my emotions, mostly because I don’t typically share my emotions with others. I’m more or less the person with whom emotions are shared, and tend to feel uncomfortable talking about myself.
  • I came to the realization early this month that I am too sensitive, and that my sensitivity is the source of many of my problems. It has been an issue throughout my life – the phenomenon of constantly being the victim of some vicious all-encompassing machination or conspiracy against me, of which all individuals whose paths I cross are players and agents – and I have only recently realized that maybe a lot of it is in my head. For one, people can be bitchy, and bitchiness is annoying, but someone else’s bitchiness has nothing to do with me. If someone has an attitude, and doesn’t know how to deal with their emotions, and therefore lashes out on me, I should have the acuity to look at their conduct and say “this isn’t about me, so I won’t take offense.” Of course, this is very Christlike; just turn the other cheek and your enemy will magically stop striking you about the face. But I can give some examples: 1) I have been asking people to read over my statements of purpose this semester. The people with whom I have a relatively professional or acquaintance relationship do not seem to wound me with their constructive criticism. Yet, when I ask my close friends, it seems somehow to strike me as malicious. I see their firm comments as veiled critiques of my character, some ongoing animosity towards me which they’ve sicced upon me. It’s taken me a year to realize how rude it is to argue against someone’s comments on your work, especially if the comments were actually solicited and warranted. It’s the illusion of rudeness, a phenomenon fueled both by self-consciousness and paranoia, which when acted upon can characterize you as ungrateful and insolent. There is no conspiracy – people do not exist to wound you, to belittle you, or to make your feel small, even if your interactions with others result only in injury, belittlement and diminishment. Don’t think so highly of yourself, and do not forget that you asked for their 2) I have a weird relationship with professors where I view all of my interactions to be a sort of demonstration or exhibition, as opposed to just casual human interaction. I suppose this isn’t exactly my fault – professors put themselves on pedestals and make themselves authority figures to whom we sometimes must kowtow and pay obeisance in order to garner their approval. I don’t like these kinds of professors, although I am not sure if I am this kind of person. Nonetheless, I find that I often have to go out of my way to show my professors that I am intelligent and motivated and interested in the profession. Not just another French minor taking the class to fulfil a requirement. Still, I find that my interactions with professors, while almost unilaterally good, are nonetheless marked by specific instances in which I reacted poorly or was misunderstood, and these interactions haunt me, even if the specific professors with whom I share such an interaction have already forgotten or forgiven me. I can’t help but bear a bit of animosity towards them, although their actions were not necessarily influenced by a particular bile or malice. It takes a great deal of energy to say “Hey, maybe Dr. _______ doesn’t actually hate your fucking guts,” and then to act upon it, and sometimes I just don’t, and avoid contact with them all together, or relegate our relationship to a particular, practical use. I’m not sure how to avoid this now, so I’m looking forward to having a fresh start. 3) I tend to linger on details in personal interactions. Sometimes these details are meaningless – a tick, a sniffle, an unwillingness to make eye contact – and sometimes they are meaningful, but I am likely to never say anything. Sometimes I get dinner with a friend and talk to them and pick up on a subtext under our conversation, expressed in body language, in the pacing of breath, in absence, in silences, in garrulousness, but I am never sure how to approach these subtexts. If anything, I like my friends to know that I acknowledge the presence of such a text, even if I never act on it. I don’t act because I do not know how to act, how to dip into an emotional realm that I haven’t already been invited into. As I’ve already said, I have a problem with inviting myself into other people’s minds. I try to crawl inside and live in their heads with them, experience their lives alongside them. There is not enough space in our minds for other people and all their clutter, and that’s why I actively question this idea of soulmates, mostly because I realize that there are parts of ourselves, niche personae, which certain individuals rarely ever see. Some see this as a betrayal – “I don’t even know you!” they always say in the movies—but I just see this as human nature. There is no person in our lives with whom we can be our complete selves with, with whom we can remove all barriers, with whom we can demonstrate all of our intricacies and hypocrisies. We are too complex, and human love is far too selfish. Nonetheless, it’s these little details which bother me, the subtext, the scurf of a conversation. I try not to think so much about it, but I can’t help it. Little, sometimes insignificant details contain significant information locked up, waiting to be deciphered by someone with the skill to do so. Maybe I’m just not smart enough to ascertain that knowledge.. or maybe there’s nothing to be ascertained. I don’t know.
  • I have written in the past that I have had difficulties being “here” or present. I have that now, too, but it’s for a different reason, and it’s more or less a temporal thing than a geographical one. That is to say, I’m having an issue being in the “now” rather than “here.” This is a weird part in my life, and I can already tell that next semester will be vastly different from first semester. For one, I don’t have much to do – I am taking a French class at Penn for which I do not need to speak or read in French (wtf, right?), a natural sciences class just to finish up my requirements, swimming (so annoying…) and my French senior colloquium for which I will be writing a “colloquium paper” (read: second, albeit shorter, thesis), all while writing and polishing my thesis. This may in fact seem like a lot, but it’s not. Considering I had a two-credit Honors seminar and an English class for which I had no prior background in conjunction to college apps, student organizations and my thesis, next semester should be a breeze. Still, I am restless about being at Swarthmore and have been restless all semester. I remember getting back to school after break and walking from Parrish Circle to my dorm (about two blocks) and not being on campus for more than thirty seconds before wanting to go back home. It’s not that I am running away from something at Swarthmore, but I feel in a way that I have outgrown it. I don’t have much patience for things I would have readily entertained, and find that I fantasize about my gross misunderstandings of adult life – grocery shopping, going to bars, drinking wine and reading _______ after getting back from a long day at class, going to the movies with my roommate(s) whom I have inevitably started to dislike – instead of enjoying and profiting from my time as a quasi-adult. I don’t feel energized enough to go out and party, nor do I feel like subjecting myself to the stomachache which always ensues after drinking, and so I spend a lot of time in my room, avoiding people and passing time. I don’t mind it, but I do feel like I am not “living” my life as I should, especially now, at what everyone likes to say is the best time of their lives. Maybe these people have grown up significantly earlier than me, and could therefore take advantage of their time in college. I, however, am only now growing into my emotional maturity, and can say that my years in college, while fun, have not been much better than high school. In both I feel I have been unhappy, although less so in college than in high school, and for different reasons. I am, however, optimistic that grad school and my twenties will be different.
  • I suppose I should state some things I’m looking forward to for 2017. For one, I’m waiting to hear back from two fellowships – Fulbright and Ford, both of which are quite prestigious and generous in their awards. I’m also waiting to hear back from three Masters programs in Montreal and Paris, and if I get the Fulbright, I will be able to pay for one of the years of my Quebec Masters programs. We’ll see about all of that relatively soon, although I am very nervous about it. I’m not nervous about getting into the programs, although I had to apply in French and may get rejected just because my French is at the level, I imagine, of a middle-school student. We’ll see, though. I’m also waiting to hear back from about 9 PhD programs, from Harvard to UChicago to Berkeley. Once again, I think I have a good shot, but we’ll see. I’m hoping to get a car next year and am currently working on figuring out how I will pay for that. Fingers crossed. I applied to my first research conference and am confident about my proposal, albeit a bit nervous because my project doesn’t align perfectly with the conference topic. I hope to live more “in the now,” finish up some ongoing projects, make some new friends, build on preexisting friendships, and get something published. Sounds doable.

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