What I’m listening to: Creep sung by Carrie Manolakos

I wish I could sing like that!

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I’ve been thinking all day about what to share about my mom, and I’m just not sure how to put our relationship into a single post. Someday, maybe, I’ll figure out a way to write out what I’d like to (maybe that day will come after finals?). For now though, another picture will have to suffice.

I love you, Ema!

Finals week and priorities

Well, classes for Sophomore year are officially over, and we’re hurtling fast into finals week. I have major assignments due Thursday and Friday, and exams to deal with next week (the plight of every college student…).  Only problem is, I’m having trouble concentrating. Somehow the vast world and all the people within it seem so. much. more. interesting. than a Neuroscience lab report or a statistics exam.

Intellectually, I realize that I need these subjects and more in order to understand my world and interact well within it. I’ve grown up under the paradigm that intellectual achievement (particularly in science, but really in any subject) is the key to success, and for the most part I still believe that. Yet, in these last weeks of the semester, it feels more important to develop relationships and create lasting memories with graduating seniors and other people I won’t be seeing for a while.  My long-term focus has disintegrated; I want to live in the moment and soak up everything that the beautiful spring weather brings with it. I have a life ahead of me to learn statistics, but these beautiful people and warm, watercolor sunsets are only here now. I won’t be able to get those moments back once they’re gone.

This isn’t a new feeling, and I expect it’s something that most people run into at some point. When is it important to focus on goals and push through frustration? When do we have to leave behind the supposed right and wrong way of doing things, and live the life we want to lead? Ideally, I’d be able to do both (once again I’ve returned to that buzzword, balance), but right now that’s not working out so well for me.

And I feel ungrateful. I feel as though I’m not taking advantage of the incredible opportunities I’ve been given at this school. I worry that I’m being complacent and not fighting through what is (hopefully? theoretically?) productive suffering.  Let’s be honest, a few exams can hardly be considered true suffering. So am I being lazy and avoiding my work? Probably. But if the point of being in Amherst is to learn and find meaning within the world, I have to ask myself which of these two paths is going to teach me the most.

I don’t know if this post has a point; maybe it’s just another form of procrastination. But I do think there’s something here that I’m going to need to puzzle out if I’m going to make it through two more years of college and who knows how many years of school after that. Right now, my mind keeps going back to a song I heard at the concert in Marsh last night (and yes, I went to the concert instead of doing my multitudes of work, and I don’t regret it). Picture this sung by a folky voice, dim lighting in a room heavy with poignancy and departure, a faint smell of incense on the air. “I want to be good, but I want to be free.”

Moving Between Rooms

A few months ago, a friend explained a metaphor to me. The basic premise is to look at ourselves as a museum that contains three rooms – a showroom, a side room, and a warehouse. The showroom stores everything that is accessible to the public, those memories and pieces of identity that are organized and presentable and protected. This room is ready to be shared with people who want to enter.

In the side room are elements of ourselves that are less polished and more private. This room is accessible to people who can help us organize or process its contents, or people who may be just be trustworthy and interested.

In the warehouse are the memories, fears, dreams, and identities that are kept private to all but a very choice few. This is where our deepest vulnerabilities are stored, and where the most damage can occur if we do not navigate with care.

It’s important to consider how we decide what goes into each of these rooms. Are the elements of ourselves that we keep buried in the warehouse only there because we banished and neglected them long ago? Do they rest, collecting dust, because they need to be processed alone, or because we are afraid of the judgement that may come when we finally bring them forward?  Perhaps we placed pieces of ourselves there in anger or fear or pain, and now they rest, gaining unnecessary weight instead of being released as part of the past.

It’s important to find a balance between these museum rooms. There needs to be enough substance and identity in the showroom that we can meaningfully connect with the people around us.  In my experience, shutting away too much of myself only leads to isolation and loneliness. On the other hand, it’s important to remember that not everything needs to be seen by the public. We have to be able to judge when it is the right time to share, and when it is kinder and wiser to hold back.

I often spend too much time in the warehouse.  At some point along the way, I think I locked the door between between those elements of my identity and past that I’m willing to share and those pieces that are for me alone. I don’t know how other people are going to react to what I have to say, so too often I don’t say it. And while at some points in my life this protective instinct probably served me well, I wonder now if it causes me to miss out on potential relationships and opportunities.

Over the past two years I’ve been trying to reorganize that internal space, letting myself be more open rather than keeping people away simply because I am unwilling or unable to let them in. It’s proven to be much harder than expected, and I still don’t think I’ve found the right balance (but really, what college student has found balance?). And maybe, again, that’s where this blog comes into play.  These posts are going to be hideously boring if I’m too protective of my words, but there are things that the internet doesn’t need to know. My posts are another chance to explore the voice that I’m showing the world, and I’m going to need to hit the “publish” button in order to be heard. I’m not sure what iteration of self will end up emerging through this blog; I just hope her voice will be genuine and true.

Image credit: Kate Bernheimer and Nicoletta Ceccoli, “The Girl in the Castle Inside the Museum”