October 16, 2016

BANKS | A Brief and Incomplete Synopsis of my Current Life

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  1. I’m taking Intro to Japanese (six credits). My German, I now realize, is significantly better than I thought.
  2.   I have an ongoing collection of observations that I’ve made of this stunning campus and all its life. They are in disarray, just like my overstuffed email inbox.
  3.   Yesterday, while parsing through a word document, in which I store all my potential stories, I discovered that over 60 (!) pages were devoted purely to good words that I had come across. The list should be shrinking as I use them, but it continues to grow somehow.
  4.   I haven’t had a decent opportunity to explore any new music or film in-depth since the summer; I am suffering from withdrawal.
  5.   Social justice is exhausting. Just writing the previous sentence uncorked a flood of pressure and emotions, which are now swirling about inside my head.
  6.   I’m supposed to take the GRE in two weeks, but standardized tests are stupid.
  7.   Oh, and I have family/friends from home; fill in the blanks.
  8.   More often than not, I spend my limited free time in wasteful isolation (i.e. YouTube; haphazard, spontaneous journaling; reading random articles). Eventually, these small chunks of wasted time accumulate to a critical mass, at which point I devote energy, begrudgingly, to my many responsibilities. More on that soon.

Anyway, the inspiration for this column came from a long overdue meeting with a close friend. We discussed many topics, like how I am booked every day through the next two weekends with “We should catch up” lunches and dinners. This is because, in spite of my magnetic relationship with my room, I know far too many people. Just one night earlier, in fact, I had had dinner with someone and found myself struck with dysphoria due to the odd combination of fascinating strangers, about whom I knew frustratingly little, and friends/acquaintances, from whom I felt unsettlingly distant — both of which were present in the crowded dining hall. Even though I am about as unimportant to most people in the grand scheme of their lives as they are to me, there’s still an uneasiness enclosed within the knowledge that everyone you know won’t love you and everyone you see can’t be known.

Eventually, the topic of conversation turned inevitably to art (he’s an architect in a band and I’m a cinephile who loves to write). I was explaining to him that I don’t think I’ve ever written a good column, but that I can sleep at night because I believe that all high quality creations, if they are really worth sharing, will find their way into the world at some point or another.

My friend offered a different perspective, drawn from a book he has been reading, which I found to be enlightening. I’m probably not describing this particularly well, but apparently, there is loads of contemporary literature in the fields of psychology and neuroscience supporting a radical new idea: Our socio-interpretive brain functions — how we perceive, value and define people — are composed of a singular cognitive faculty for both outward and inward processes. So while it may seem intuitive that you can be wrong about someone else, it came as a surprise to me that I could indeed also be just as wrong about myself.

“Wow,” I thought. “Do I hate all of my columns because I’ve tried to express myself in the wrong way? If there is indeed this truly infinite landscape, covered in potentially successful pathways for my own artistic journey, then what if I just keep choosing the wrong one? What if I actually failed not because I am a bad writer (though this may very well be the case), but because I failed to recognize the writer I was supposed to be?”

The prospect of such a thought process becomes increasingly terrifying because it lacks precision. There is no reliable metric or analysis that allows you to discern whether the thing you’ve created is the truest version of yourself, and thus you are destined to be overwhelmed, dissatisfied, and unsure for the rest of your days.

Between the two of us, though, my friend and I came to a more reassuring conclusion: Contentedness with your creative agency lies in accepting the imperfection of yourself, including the uncertainty of your ability to understand yourself. I can question the why and how of my writing all day long. Yet if, after all this, I trust that I have consciously and truly written what I wanted — and only what I wanted, then I can live with the “what could have been,” the doubts and the insecurities. So yes, I am greatly disappointed in most of my columns, but I know for a fact that even my bad columns were still very much so a version of myself that I embrace and love. I may have outgrown the content, or see it as vastly inferior to stories/essays/other forms of written expression stowed away on my computer, but these words are mine. They are useful to my peace of mind and essential for my artistic growth.

I am a human being, which means I am predisposed to the comforts of conformity and stubbornly resistant to the challenges of change. After all, the vast majority of would-be repercussions in my life have carried neither permanence nor relevance with respect to my overall trajectory. Yet, when confronted with the option to label a potential outcome as hollow and trivial or a legitimate concern, I continue to struggle with the fear of choosing incorrectly. Thus I often consign myself to the more restrained, measured route — even when it is in direct opposition to my own desires. This boundless, vacuous fear threatens to swallow joy, and a sense of urgency without a sense of joy leads to stress without purpose, which is perhaps the most destructive and useless type of stress one can have.

Taking into account this perspective, I’m no longer sure about my previous frame of mind (“What should exist eventually will exist”). But if I can at least trust that “what does exist is what I freely and happily willed to exist,” then I have no complaints. Sure, I might find that I’ll never have written or said enough, but, as always, at least I’ll have said something. The choices never made, the words never written, the thoughts never fully explored, the ideas never realized… this is all wound into the territory of the torture that is being alive and thinking.

All in all, cluttered minds are not a scourge to the efficiency demanded by the modern world, but its greatest source of innovation. You should have more words, thoughts and ideas than time. I certainly don’t have enough time, yet the reason I continue to bother with taking so long to become productive is a matter of dissent. The world presents productivity in a formulaic way, and even the unorthodox among us are bound to eventually align themselves with this school of thought: That productivity can be measured in output, contribution, tangible benefits, creations, dollars, pride, ego and acclaim. As for myself, I know that I’ll get to the productive stuff, in due time.

Amiri Banks is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He may be reached at abanks@cornellsun.com. Honest A.B. appears alternate Mondays this semester.

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