I remember squirming uncomfortably in my seat as I waited at the bus stop. The bus was late. I had things to do that day and was annoyed that my car was at home. It would have been so much faster to drive. I pulled out my phone and opened my email. My index finger scrolled through the list of appointment reminders, pre-health mailing group emails, and amazon receipts, selecting everything that it could. Eventually satisfied with its choices, it hovered over the delete button. I let it fall until it finally landed with a triumphant thud on the touch screen. But now what? The anxiety came back. I needed something to do. Every minute I waited for the bus was another minute that I could have worked on a paper, or explored a new place, or had a conversation with a friend. Every minute on the hard cold metal of the bench was a minute I would never get back.
So often I feel this urge to work, this anxious need to do something, to get up and go. The more experiences I can fit into one twenty-four hour period, the more accomplished I feel. In college I felt that I met a lot of people who didn’t understand that, who squandered their time, who grinded away at a major they didn’t like to get a job they didn’t want, to fit comfortably into a society where we exchange our precious time for material possessions that will inevitably rot away as time passes on. I met people who spent their free time watching stories on Netflix and living lives through video games that they could have in reality. I wanted to be the opposite of this. In my mind every day should have new experiences, every moment should be worthwhile. And I still believe that, but I think I’ve been doing it wrong.
I now realize that a lot of that time I spent “being productive,” exclusively on new experiences was wasted, because I never took the time to examine what I was doing. I and so many others have become so caught up in the hustle of a world of “the new”, a world of forward motion that we have stopped taking the time to reflect on the new experiences that we have, and in doing so we devalue them. There’s no consolidation. There’s no storage. We lose the true value of these experiences because we forget to remember them and more importantly to don’t really learn the lessons that they have to teach. I’ve spent so many years chasing new and interesting experiences, but outside of the occasional application essay, I rarely take time to go back and explore why I did them, what they meant, and look at the tiny details that make them unique.
Another Bonderman Fellow, Scott Haber, said to me “I feel like my experiences are analogous to the wake of a ship - memories which trail behind me, losing their forms, gradually fading as time passes. But I press forward. I keep moving.” I wonder how hard it is to capture that wake and if it is possible to preserve. I would guess that it’s probably easier for some, but I suspect those of us with more extroverted personalities are more challenged in this regard. We are always with others, and this presents a problem.
Using myself as an example, I don’t remember the last time I was genuinely alone. When I’m at home, my family is there. When I go to campus, I am always with friends. When I’m driving, I’m talking to someone on speaker phone. And this works for me, I feel happy and content in these situations, but I am missing out on the upsides of being alone. This highly social lifestyle does not lend itself well to reflection. It’s the reason this is only my second post. And, if I’m being honest, the only reason that I have time to sit down and type this is because the friend whose house I’m currently in had to run out for an errand. I am terribly in-experienced in aloneness and yet a state of aloneness is the easiest time to reflect. And now I’m here. Preparing to embark on what may be the most experience-rich and simultaneously isolating experience of my life and I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to take it and whether I’ll be able to cope with this new world of aloneness. I’m nervous for that, but also excited to see what insights this new way of living will bring me.
In the meantime, though, as I run through the hustle and bustle of daily life on this campus, I think I need to start appreciating places like that bus stop. It think it’s important that we take those little moments of aloneness, of quiet, those tiny lulls in the day, as treat them as a temporary solace from our incessant busyness. Look up at bird, watch a happy couple stroll by, hear the music of the car engines, and breath deeply.
Until next time
It feels strange, putting a pen to paper like this. I don’t often put down my thoughts with ink.
I know by the time you read this the text will be digitized. These words will be broken down to 1’s and 0’s and transmitted and reassembled into something meaningful on your screen. But I think it’s important that you know that the content of this post came into the world as blue ball-point ink scribbled across the empty back pages of an old notebook from my days in EMT school.
It’s also important that you know that the text is in print.
I’m writing in print, not because I want this to look to look neat. In fact my handwriting is rather sloppy. The reason it’s in print is because I never learned cursive. Or perhaps it is more appropriate to say that I never chose to learn cursive.
You see, cursive was an optional lesson back in third grade. 8 year-old me was eager to run around outside, play video games, and participate in general mischief. I decided that the extra work wasn’t worth it, that I was happy to keep on doing what I was doing, and here I am at 21, still writing in print. About to travel the world, writing in print. And despite the fact that it’s never really been an impediment to me. I mean I’m great at typing, but now I’m dependent on computers to write efficiently, and something about that dependency makes me feel deficient. The worst part is that my inability to write in cursive is a deficiency that I brought upon myself. It’s funny how decisions like that follow us.
I’d like to think that I’ve changed since then. Although my friends might tell you that aspects of my 8 year-old self are still unabashedly present. Regardless, one thing I know for certain is that the part of me passed up on cursive, and more importantly on an opportunity to learn something new, over 13 years ago is gone.
I don’t know exactly when he left. It was probably a gradual departure. But I do recall one major factor in the change. It was a movie I saw back in 8th grade, a romantic comedy with a whopping 46% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, starring Jim Carrey called Yes Man. The main character lives a boring unfulfilled life until he begins to say yes to every, and I mean every, opportunity that comes his way. The the plot points become gratuitous at times and you could argue that he takes it too far, but I think it was the premise of the movie that really got me. “Yes” as a default. And my impressionable 13 year old self ran with it. I guess that’s also funny, those little influences early on that have a profound impact on the course of your life. Thanks Jim.
That premise, that attitude, that I adopted as I grew is the reason that I’m sitting here writing this at all. It’s the reason behind this blog, and it’s the reason that I’ll be leaving the United States in August. It’s the reason I’ll cross two oceans and visit sixteen different countries while I’m gone. And I am hopeful that it will be the reason I return with stories and an understanding of the world that are unimaginable to me now.
My feelings over the last few months have been mixed. There was the catharsis of submitting my application, and the disbelief of receiving an interview. The most nervous I have ever been was in the fifteen minutes before I stepped into that conference room as I paced anxious laps around Angell Hall. Then there was impatience as I awaited the announcement date and the surprise and excitement of receiving the award. Special thanks to Ben Malamet for taking me to bdubs for a celebratory beer at 11:30 AM, and also convincing the Biology/Neuroscience program advisor who spotted us at the bar while enjoying his lunch that we are not, in fact, alcoholics.
And now, as I write this, in that blue ball-point ink, it is summer. I am an alumnus, a graduate, and what that means on paper is that college is behind me and in some ways still with me. Now my planning can truly begin. Its calm. I’m still in Ann Arbor, but the city feels slower. I am sure, in part, because it is summer, but also because many of my friends have moved on. I am still here though, living at home, bouncing between ambulance shifts in Detroit and spending hours in the fishbowl meticulously planning for a trip that is supposed to be as spontaneous as possible.
I don’t want to forget this time, and that’s why I’m writing now as opposed to my first day of the trip. Because I think it’s important to remember my perspective now before I find myself in the middle of the journey that is to come, hindsight is skewed and well informed, but no matter what part of my life I’m in, I want to be able to look back and see this for what it was.
And right now, I feel like there is a mountain in front of me. It’s made of visa and credit card applications, equipment purchases, meetings, phone calls, and shots. But I feel comfortable with it, and I cannot wait to see the view from the summit. I don’t want to look back on this experience 13 years from now and realize that I missed out on the opportunity to remember what that felt like.
More thoughts to come.