It has been too long since I’ve last written in this blog. I was planning on writing up another opinion/rant post but I realized that there has been a big enough gap from my last post that I should post some updates about my life in general, for those who are interested.
Academically speaking, school has been going well enough so far, much better then last year at least. I’ve been attending my classes regularly and I have yet to reach any serious trouble, although I have been working on midterms a lot this week and last week. I’m also 90% certain that I want to major in Religion. Some of my communication classes have been pretty dry this year but I have yet to take a religion class that wasn’t interesting or engaging. I’ll likely switch communication to my minor now.
Everything is exceeding expectations for me in my first year as a varsity debater. The week before summer started I had a goal setting meeting with Storey to plan what I should try to strive for this debate season. We came to the conclusion that breaking to varsity out rounds would be a good stretch goal for me and a mark of a successful year.
I broke to varsity out-rounds at the second tournament of the year, William and Mary. It was my first time breaking to out-rounds and really changed what I think would be possible this year. Now I’m pretty steadfast on trying to get qualled this year so I don’t have to deal with the Free Seed nonsense that made life difficult last season. I’m also really psyched that I’ve only lost two opposition rounds all semester, one of which was tied speaks and ranks. All I have to do now is find a way to opp every single round at a tournament or write more then two cases and I’ll be as good as gravy.
While I haven’t found a girlfriend yet, I feel a lot less depressed about it then I did over the summer. Now, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still bum me out, but everything feels much better then it did. Part of that is because the school year has started up and I’ve been spending a lot of my time hanging out with friends instead of stewing at home by myself. But I think a larger part of it is because I feel I really am on the brink of entering a relationship soon. I don’t know the specific how, when, or where but I feel I’ve grown enough as a person that I can have some amount of control on how my life is heading and how to at least point in the general direction of what I want. I also feel much more confident socially. This is important because before I thought one of the reasons I was never in a relationship was because I lacked certain social skills or graces. Now I’ve developed new social confidence and was reassured by good friends that I’m not as undesirable to be around as I had made up in my mind.
While my life is far from perfect or what I want right now, it at least feels like it’s making gradual upward momentum.
I haven’t posted in a while and it’s been nagging at me bad. Whenever I write a blog post I try to make each one a new insight into either my feelings or opinions. But lately the only thing that’s been on my mind is the exact same things I wrote about my posts “Something is Missing” and “Endless Summer”. I didn’t want to fill the blog with redundancy but it occurred to me that the redundancy and stagnancy of my situation could be an original topic all its own.
It seems that the fears I expressed in “Endless Summer” have been confirmed. Summer really has been stretched out for me, with little relief, something that I have to endure. A large issue is that I’ve found little comfort from talking to friends or hanging out with them. Whenever I try to express my frustration to my friends over how the one thing I desire, a romantic and meaningful relationship, is just out of reach and out of my control for a set amount of time, they can understand and support the logos of my situation. They understand on a technical level how a situation like that could make me depressed, and give rational reasons for why it might change. But I feel my friends can’t relate to the pathos of my situation. They offer kind words that I appreciate logically but give me no fulfillment emotionally. Because all of my close friends are in relationships or have had one they can’t relate to my situation in a way that’s necessary to help me feel better or at least feel less stranded. It’s like my friends forced to look at me through the lens of a telescope a thousand miles away. They get the gist of the situation and can assume some of the details but they’re in no way close enough to the problem to truly help me.
At best, my friend’s are able to be neutral sounding boards so I’m not left stewing in my own mind. However the behaviors of my friends have unintentional negative effects that often vault me into waves of depression. It’s whenever my friend’s partake in open displays of romantic affection with their partners. Now, it’s not that PDA grosses me out or I find it morally offensive. My discomfort does not come from prudishness but from the fact that it reminds me explicitly of something I never had, can’t get now, and might not achieve for a long time. Right in my face is something that all my friends seemed to find or attain so easily while I stand there wondering what did I do wrong to not be allowed to experience something so fundamental. A kiss, something my friends seem to take for granted, is only in the realm of unattained desire for me. The sheer nonchalant attitude of my friends displays almost come off as mocking me for being too undesirable for someone to show similar displays of affection for me.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that my friends shouldn’t be allowed to display acts of affection with their partner. Nor am I saying that making me feel depressed is an intentional effect my friends want to produce.
The best way I can explain it is as if I was disabled in a wheelchair. I appreciate it when my non-disabled friends say that they feel bad that I can’t play basketball but it still kinda sucks to have to sit on the sidelines and watch them play, watch them having fun, experiencing something that I never have experienced and may not experience for a while.
A distinct image remains in my mind from this year’s North American Debate Championships. It was the night of the formal banquet, a tradition title tournaments feature where everyone wears fancy clothes, sits in the university’s nicest banquet hall, eats bad vegetarian food, and nervously wait for the break announcements. In Canada, the drinking age is 19. I know this because at the time of the banquet I was 18 years and 352 days old. The Canadian government had yet to deem me fit for the consumption of alcohol.
Others partaking in the banquet did not have the same restrictions I did. I saw five our so Canadian debaters I didn’t recognize standing in a circle, talking. Dressed in evening gowns, crisp black suits, laughing coyly, and glasses of red wine in hand, they resembled what someone might find in an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel. As early as 5 years ago, they would have been signing yearbooks, worried about getting grounded, eating lunch in a stuffy school cafeteria with hordes of other kids. In light of this, it seemed to me that the people I was watching were “playing” being adults, similar to how one would play house as a child. I could not fathom what had happened in between their past as children and their present as “adults” that marked the transition from adulthood. Without declaration, they seemed resigned to acting out small moments of adulthood when they could.
Maybe I’m allowing my own preconceptions to generalize the situation. But from personal experience, our society lacks a mechanism that indicates to someone a solid transition to adulthood. Instead I feel like I’m simply “playing” adult at some moments while being anything but during the rest of my life.
I believe that my society would benefit from a real, recognizable rite of passage.
Not substitute rites of passage either, a term I define as certain events that have a main utility that isn’t to mark an entrance into adulthood. For example, getting a driver’s license or graduating high school is seen as a rite of passage by many. But I think they really exhibit my point in how much society craves rites of passage. We latch onto things that deal with learning how to parallel park or to do algebra and add secondary associations of transition because we are desperately looking for a hard trigger to act as a societal parameter.
The few true rites of passage that exists today, such as Bar and Bat Mitzvahs and Christian Confirmation, suffer from glaring issues that prevent them from solving the issue. First is that they’re only recognized by sects of society. Going through a Bar Mitzvah doesn’t mean that a boy’s transition will be recognized anywhere outside the Jewish community. Second, ingrained traditions override the practical utility that you get from recognizing a Rite of Passage. Bar and Bat Mitzvahs set the age you become an adult at 13. This made more sense thousands of years ago, when people lived shorter lives and didn’t go to school so as soon a they turned thirteen, males would go straight to full-time farming or other professions while women would start a family. But in America today I don’t think you can find anyone, even among the Jewish community, that would say the age of 13 is when one is capable of handling the responsibilities of adulthood and should be recognized as such. It’s my observation that Jewish communities use it more as a way to stay connected to their culture and values and less to indicate someone as an adult.
A unified, broad, rite of passage that’s accepted throughout America could clear up so many of the muddled emotions people feel as they get older. Walking through the forested paths of Douglass campus in the middle of the night would cause one’s mind to wander. I always found myself walking the paths around 1 or 2 AM on Tuesday and Thursday nights, after debate meetings. I thought about a lot of things but one topic continued to remain salient. I would remember pulling away from my driveway, my mom driving me towards New Brunswick, and moving into my dorm. No ceremony, no overt or covert acknowledgement. One day I was living with my family, the next day I had moved out. I thought about how with barely a word I had just left my father as I went down the driveway, and would soon be leaving my mother and brother after they helped me move in. Walking in the night, the trees lit by moonlight and street lamps, I would find myself enveloped by a deep sadness and repressing a tear. I felt that I owed to my family and myself that such a moment shouldn’t be so quiet, so confusing. It would only feel right if such a moment was given true recognition of it’s massive transition. But instead without a solid rite of passage to indicate I was ready and my family was ready for such a change I feel we were both left deprived of a needed reprieve.
This is why we need a rite of passage. It removes a major part of our lives from doubt. In the Maasai culture, men and women must undergo circumcision before they’re considered a member of their tribe. The process is done without an anesthetic and is incredibly painful, with weeks of recovery time afterwards.
Listen, I’m not saying our society needs a rite of passage that brutal. But in Maasai tribes, after a guy goes through the process, no one can call him a child anymore.
This is the first summer break that I can’t wait to be over. 12-year old me would be more than delighted at the idea of an endless summer but now the thought of one makes me quiver. The end of summer will be something I’ll finally come to welcome.
Part of it has to do with the time before summer break. Summer break is meant to do what’s in the name: give students a break from the academic year. However I did not have a year that one would necessarily call “academic”. The languishing I did over the school year just remains uninterrupted as it cedes into summer. While during the year my inactivity was at least challenged by competitive debate the debate season has ended. I have no need for a break because I did not do anything that entitled me to one or required one. In fact, I needed the opposite of a break: something for me to do and occupy my time, something to direct my life and ambitions on.
Presently, summer has lacked such opportunities.
In fact, summer break has enhanced its own monotony by cutting down my reality by several degrees. Summer is associated by many as chance to do the things you’ve never had the chance to do before, to live free, to live youthfully. It’s no surprise why Woodstock and the paradigm of freedom present in the 60′s was labeled as the “Summer of Love”.
Summer once again has been the reverse of what’s suppose to make it great. I feel incredibly restricted in the things that I can accomplish in my summer. Despite applying for many different jobs, only one has gotten back to me and the latest I could possibly start there is after July 12th. Because of this money has become a strong limiting factor. My time is also wrapped up as I need to take summer courses if I want to be in Rutgers next fall. The summer courses mean that I can’t do any whimsical week-long road trip to Montreal nor can I hang out with friends when I need to study or finish a paper.
One of the worst factors of the summer is the scrutiny that comes from spending so much time at home. In college I was alone with my dorm and choose when and who I would spend time with, leaving and entering when I felt like it. But at home I am once again intertwined in family life, where my day and schedule is connected and mixed with my family’s own schedules, perceptions, and moods. Without debate or a job to necessitate me leaving the house more often the familial climate often feels too limiting as I go through the motions with people I’ve known forever instead of making new connections with people I’m just getting to know.
These factors bring me to a state where I’m often lost in my own mind, just thinking about anything and everything that isn’t the present situation.
This is what leads to me imaging the possibilities after summer finally releases me.
First and foremost is finding a relationship. The most choking thing about summer is that it acts as a blockade against the thing I desire most right now. While I can find solutions and workarounds to the other problems associated with summer break I will not have any reasonable chance of finding a relationship until summer ends and I’m back in school. The worst part about this is all the waiting and how this waiting dips into my habit of grandeur thinking. Since I’m locked into this summer break all I really have to do to sustain myself is think about the possibilities open to me once summer ends and how those possibilities are just out of reach until the break is over.
But there is one possibility that keeps coming up. It’s one that scares me. Probably the only possibility that would make me be happy for an endless summer.
What if, after all this hoping, after all this desire and dreaming, after all the changes I’ve had as a person, it’s not enough? That when I enter Rutgers again, I find no one to share a part of my life with. That all my fears and insecurities about myself are confirmed, that there is something wrong or undeveloped about my persona that makes a relationship impossible. My greatest fear is that like all my dreams and delusions, my desire for a relationship is also naught, that I actually have nothing to look forward to once summer ends.
It makes me afraid that this could be the start of the summer I always thought I wanted.
For the first time I completed the initial paper for an expository writing class.
I didn’t realize this until my instructor told us to do a free write about what we felt our biggest accomplishment was in terms of writing. I wrote that I was happy I actually did the paper. It was then that I looked back at past classes and it dawned on me. The first time I took expos I didn’t show up to class the day the first draft was due and subsequently every class after that. The second time I took expos I cut the first few classes until my professor contacted me. We set a later deadline for the first paper while I completed the other assignments in the meantime. I never met that deadline.
Although I still reverted to a lot of my bad habits of not starting the paper till 3 in the morning then doing it in a flurry the morning it’s due, I got it done this time. Despite this being a small act and something that’s should have occurred 10 months ago, I still found myself the tiniest bit proud.
After I handed in the paper (I handed it in! Not watching others in shamed silence!) the instructor asked us about our free write questions, one of which was what would you improve in your writing process? An almost unanimous response from the class was getting distracted by things like Facebook. Fro many, it was only when they blocked Facebook or turned off the internet could they get their work done. I tired to relate, but I really couldn’t. Even when I logged off Facebook, even when I pledged myself off of reddit, it still didn’t matter.
I spent at least half the time in silence, thinking.
And not because things were bothering me. It seems common for people to just sit and think if there is a serious issue afoot in their lives. There was no such (salient) issue.
I imagined an interstellar warrior race that had a feudal style of government, where instead of a nobleman having a castle they had planets. The culture was based on Chinese motifs with oriental decorations on their starships and buildings. In medieval China, the Mandate of Heaven would determine who was fit to rule and would cause the rise and fall of dynasty’s. The culture I imagined also used the Mandate. When someone challenged the current emperor they would call them Pretenders, while the emperor would call the accuser Usurpers. I imagined this entire society’s art, religion, their history, dynasty’s that have fallen and those that are rising, the different planets they live on, the different opinions of its denizens, the sub-orbital battles between the emperor and the Usurpers, the stories they told, the people who were significant. All in the vivid detail of a film or novel.
I’ve had fantasy’s like the one above as long as I can remember, ever since I was a child. I would be able to sit in my room with no one else around and nothing to do and just enter these worlds. I have never told anyone anything about them, fearful that others don’t think that way or wouldn’t understand. Not too long ago I found a quote by Neil Gaiman that showed me I might not be unique in my fantasy’s:
Everybody has a secret world inside of them. All of the people of the world, I mean everybody. No matter how dull and boring they are on the outside, inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds. Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands maybe.
The fantasys aren’t limited to the unreal and magical. I’ve planned out entire cycles of the future of RUDU, from implementation of an idea to reaping the benefits. Entire cycles of the future of APDA, of the greatness that both groups can achieve. This is where I become paralyzed as two parts of me fight each other for control. My failures and lack of intiative are more daunting when I have the capacity to plan for something but lack the will or ability to enact it. One part of me gets to fly in magnificent delusions of grandeur while the other part chains me down, unable to accomplish anything of mirth.
Maybe I was just flat out relieved to be done with my expos paper. But on a deeper level there is an inkling of something more. The feeling that this one step, while small, is in a different direction. A direction that leads me to the sky, not to the ground.
So many of our social issues come down to the insidious power of labels. The labels that others apply to us, the ones we apply to others, and the ones we apply to ourselves. It makes me frustrated that we seal away our true potential under the opaque lens of labels and instead cast the shadows that people want to see of us on the public wall. All the while we hide our authentic selves, the very authenticity that when showcased instead of hidden allows use to intearct with people, not their masks.
The most apparent misuse of labels is how we categorize people by using parameters that don’t exist: notions like racism and nationalism. A while back in a discussion thread on the RUDU group about racism Asher wrote what I think points directly to the issue of not just racist labeling, but all labels:
“I don’t think the problem with racism is merely that it hurts feelings, rather that racism destroys individuality. By making racist comments about an individual or a set of individuals, you are creating a (usually false) generalization. This ignores both the positive and negative aspects of said person.”
But 95% of us already know the evils of racism. You didn’t need to read this for that revelation.
However, there is a type of labeling that is even more prevalent then racism and at least in my own social context, more destructive. It’s the social labels that don’t have the same superficial layer of malice of racism. The labels that everyone may seen as benign or even necessary. But these labels have the same problems. They apply a universal persona, despite true actions.
I feel the best way to showcase what I’m talking about is to examine some of the social norms that a lot of you reading are familiar with, mainly those in RUDU. Granted, I love most things about the team. But a huge tendency of RUDU is to assign a label on someone to define them. I had one for a short while when I first joined. It was that I was very ‘moderate’. People quickly stopped calling me that after my first in a series of rants about topics ranging from dogs to the like button on Facebook. I can see how these labels could possibly be fun. People could apply them to someone they’ve known for a long time and it acts as a funny crutch when conversation slows. The issue arises though when the debate team more then doubles in size. You suddenly have new members coming in, people that are brought up to speed on everyone in a crash course manner. When they hear you reference a label they don’t share the same field of experience you have with the person. Instead people come to be defined by their label, even if the person who originated the label never intended it to be this way.
Although the people being labeled may laugh politely when it’s referenced or give a nervous grin it’s felt below the lens. Often when I’m talking with people from the club 1 on 1, away from a larger group, I get a feel for what they truly are. And what they truely are is never what the label is. Instead I’m told of how they feel hurt by the label, how they don’t feel open to people or know how to address the issue. Often times there is anger at the originator of the label. This is an issue in itself because whoever the originator is they never want to cause ill will. Yet now there is this misplaced anger at them, and they don’t understand why, causing further relationship breakdown. In the context of RUDU, in such a large team, people have a hard time breaking past these labels.
Beyond the the personal harms comes what I believe is there biggest issue. They create a fake reality. Someone who has the label of being good with directions will always be asked to hold the map even if they get the group lost more then anyone else. The irony is not lost on me that although I’m decrying the use of labels in this post I was the one who created a RUDU superlatives game for our end of year banquet. However, I would not be writing this post if I had not run the game and saw how people voted. Creating that activity gave me wonderful insight of how labels influenced people’s voting decisions vs. my own personal empiric. It showed that this fake reality had more power then actual reality.
It reminded me of how labels invite exploitation and harm. When I was in high school, I wore the label of being competent, timely, efficient, and a good student. Most of these weren’t true. Yet even after I had not been in class for a week straight, teacher’s would give me the benefit of the doubt even though it was so obvious I was skipping class. The refused to remove their notion of me as a good student. Despite missing deadlines in my film class my teacher still assumed that I was the most efficient person there because that’s the label I had. When someone’s constructed reality is dis proven by reality they almost always defer to the constructed.
This is bad. Instead of people willing to confront the truth, I was allowed to hurt myself academically and personally. Instead of people going past the filter and meeting the authentic I was left, as are so many, to be myself, but alone under an opaque lens.
Much of this year I’ve been finding myself drawn into reflective moments about a lot of things but a recurring thought is the desire to be in a romantic relationship with someone. Not even anyone in particular, just the desire to have one and experience one, to understand something that seems something routine that I have yet to accomplish.
A lot of the catalyst for this is seeing others in relationships. Even on the surface looking in I can see the immense amount of joy each person gives each other and although I’m happy for them I find myself very envious. And once I realize I’m feeling envious I feel guilty for feeling that way which once again leads to a somber mood. Nothing drives this home more for me than when I’m hanging out with a group of friends who are in relationships. The best metaphor for the situation I can make is this: I like hanging out with friends but when I hang out with them they’re all having fun playing basketball while I’m in a wheelchair. Although we have a great time together when it’s time for us to go our seperate ways I’m painfully aware that they’re leaving together, going to something better and more personal then what we just experienced while I’m going to a situation far less sociable and personal: just my own introspection.
This seemed much less of an issue a year ago. While I always thought a relationship would be nice if it happened it wasn’t something I was concerned about or worried over. I was also self-aware of myself as well; I realized that I didn’t really open up to people in ways that would be needed to make a relationship work or be meaningful and I lacked the immediate social ability to enter the starting stages of a relationship.
But as I entered college I felt I changed as a person. I felt much more adept socially, I began to open up to more people hand have stronger friendships. It seemed to me at least that I had grown enough in a way that would allow the possibility of a relationship happening.
But it hasn’t happened yet. Serious doubt of how I actually am come into my mind on a daily basis. Am I really that great of person to be around? Maybe I’m not someone worth sharing your intimate aspirations with. I ask myself “Don’t I deserve to be part of someone else’s life?”. That question is not designed to always have uplifting answers. If I am someone worth it, someone who has grown into a being worth being a major part of someone’s romantic life, how come it hasn’t happened yet? What really drives it home is that for everyone else learning how to be in a relationship is a part of life that just comes naturally to you, like losing your baby teeth.
And yet here I am, feeling like I’m only experiencing life with 5 of my 6 senses.