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May 3, 2017

GOLDFINE | Everyone’s A Prophet When They Don’t Know What To Say

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I started writing this column two years ago, and then again a year ago. No, really it’s in my iPhone notes. I’m a preemptively nostalgic sort of person, it’s not cute. At those times, my own personal zeitgeist must have seemed clear to me. Self-satisfied and obnoxious as these shriveled up column introductions read to me now — written bathed in the smug, warm glow of a coherent sense of self — their existence indicates to me that even within them, I knew these moments wouldn’t last. It’s telling that I was seized with urgency to cash in on them, and squeeze out a piece of writing while it lasted. I must have been trying to look out for my future self — to try to save myself from the anxiety of having to look myself over, under deadline, and try to shake a zeitgeist of my thesis-spent body.

This is the last column I will write ever for The Cornell Daily Sun, an organization I joined in desperate search of a sense of self, and I am zeitgeist-less.

I became viscerally aware of this fact about two weeks ago when I found myself sitting on the floor of an Olin Library bathroom, at around midnight, sobbing without pants on. I was in the library because I was working on my honors thesis. I was crying because I was seriously considering the possibility that my honors thesis was trash; that all my teachers, loved ones and (in the case of my thesis) favorite bands would soon discover me as a fraud; and that all my ugliest and most unlivable fears about myself were very, very true. (I didn’t have pants on because my jeans felt too tight and it was distracting, so I took them off in order to give my full attention to crying).

I’ve become fairly certain that happiness is just finding people and activities that distract you from these ugly feelings so that you can live. If there’s a video game “expert” level of existing beyond that, I’ve never made it that far. But, despite best efforts of very good person, Daniel Toretsky ‘16, on the floor of that bathroom, I was resolutely concentrated on how shitty and useless of a person I was.

What I felt on the floor of that bathroom in Olin brings me to The Sun’s Arts and Entertainment section. It’s a truly remarkable thing that I spent so much of the last few years writing for the Arts section, because writing is an activity that distinctly doesn’t distract me from all these bad, ugly feelings about myself, but rather puts me intimately, inescapably in touch with them.

Every two weeks for most of the past two years, I’ve opened my laptop to a big white Word document of crippling anxiety, dread and self-loathing. It’s a masochistic ritual. I comb my consciousness for a potentially interesting thought I’ve had about popular culture over the past 2 weeks, write a sentence, read it over 10 times to check that it doesn’t sound corny or boring or unoriginal or sentimental or over-referential or under-referential or naive or pompous or terrible or too snarky/bloggy or too sincere or too like I’m “trying too hard.” Rinse and repeat about 28 times, until 700-1000 words. By the end of the column, I’m usually so anxious, frantic and desperate to escape the pulsing, tell-tale heart of that Word document that I bleed out the last sentence, send it off and slam my laptop shut without proofreading, because if I spend another second looking at it, I might start tearing up the floorboards.

This might sound strange considering I tend to write columns about things like the Chainsmokers, The Walking Dead, Magic Mike XXL and mosh pits, but bear with me.  Every time I write a column, I get naked with every ugly, dizzyingly and terrifying thought I am prone to: that I am unintelligent, boring, superficial, incapable of non-derivative ideas, lazy, inarticulate, inadequate and generally shallow, uncreative and deluded in thinking that I might be an ok person. When I eventually ran for and became an editor of the Arts and Entertainment section, I also faced these feelings daily.

That’s my dirty secret. Writing undoes me.

Why did I do it? No one paid me, no one asked me to and no one really cares that I did. Of course, I did it because I think pop culture and music is important and meaningful, and I find something uniquely and profoundly gratifying in challenging myself to think critically about art and entertainment, yadda yadda, etc, etc, and other things which are all true, which I’ve said before, and which are not the topic of this column. This column is not about those things because, if I’m being honest, I don’t think a love of criticizing art and music alone would be enough to keep me coming back to the word document.

I think I did it, and keep doing it because I get to author a coherent “me” into every column. Once every two weeks, I find a stable “self” for 900 words. Not every column I’ve written has achieved what I’m talking about. But, sometimes, when I read a column in which I found what writers call “voice,” I’m able to look at it from the outside and imagine the coherent, fathomable person who wrote it, who had a set of perceptions and ideas and values and opinions that came from a place of trueness and identity. And I realize that person is me, and that voice was mine.

It’s not really about finding one truth. I’ve written many foolish, erratic, obsolete selves into columns. I’ve found a momentary self in opinions I no longer think are true (like that irony isn’t killing us; that Phantogram’s Voices was pretty good), and in ideas that are truly tedious (social media is legitimate and political, the trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is sexist, wow!). I’ve found myself in wanting to hate-fuck the Chainsmokers; in having failed to read Infinite Jest, in believing with all my heart that Mitski will save us; in disliking moshing; in understanding Instagram as good place where things like feminist art happens; and in insisting that maybe there are complex reasons why Taylor beat out Kendrick for the grammy!

These ideas and opinions I undid myself to get at are not my identity, although some have pointed me in the right direction. But they are at least evidence of a consciousness and a subjectivity that is, undeniably, irrevocably mine.

As the good indie rock band, Girlpool, sings, “I’m still looking for sureness in the way I say my name.” If you are like me, you say your name with a question mark and fall apart in library bathrooms and despite what feminist theorists say about millennial feminists having been “raised on post-structuralism” — you’re a boring, normative, essential-locus-seeking cliché and all you want in this big creepy world is to find livable sense of self.

Being a part of the Arts and Entertainment section has helped me say my name with a little more sureness, and learning about this fickle thing called myself right here in the column section has been a strange and wonderful pleasure.

The kind of Arts section where this kind of thing can happen, however, involves a small critical mass of people who give a shit. It is is my experience and my hope that there will always be a few people who give a shit about the Arts section; who stumble on it in search of something, realize something strange and special is going on here, and decide to stay.

I’m only here because I noticed folks like Zach Zahos ‘14, James Rainis ‘14, Calvin Patten ’14, Alice Wang ‘13, Julia Moser ‘14, Arielle Cruz ‘14 and Sean Doolittle ‘14 giving a shit, and writing words which made me want to write, too.

I’m really only here though, because of Kaitlyn Tiffany ‘14, without whose encouragement to become a columnist and eventually Arts editor, my ugly feelings would likely have gotten the best of me; whose writing I savor each week like… well, like a girl with another girl’s newsletter, and who almost certainly has no idea how much she and her writing mean to me.

Thank you to my angelic and patient editors, Andrei Kozyrev ‘20 and Katie Sims ‘20 who have tolerated me in a semester when my columning was either not-at-all or a garbled stream of consciousness, and who are making cool things happen in this section.

Thank you to my former co-editor, Mike Sosnick ‘16, who, although we had a challenging co-editorship, I’m happy to say now messages me when he goes on Tinder dates with Instagram artists I like 🙂

Thank you to the Arts section boys, who unexpectedly became many of my dearest friends in college. I was wholly prepared to be a section loner, and gratifyingly resent all you dumb music boys who loved Radiohead, but you have collectively proved to me that this is not always an effective criteria to weed out assholes. It took a lot of energy to not feel like a cool girl around you and I often failed.

Such boys include my former editors, Shay Collins ‘18, whose obsessiveness with whatever’s on his mind never fails to charm me, and Troy Sherman ‘18, whose brilliance and ability to articulate and defend his opinions is so capacious, as to have been the subject of some one-woman plays I have performed. Don’t worry. I’m just jealous. Thank you to Sam Bromer ‘16, in whom I found someone who felt many of the same anxieties I did about writing and life in general, and thus, is one of the best humans in the world to complain to. To Chris Stanton ‘17—who I am so profoundly glad I coerced into writing for this section. Thank you for the hip-hop education, I’m waiting for your Wall Street crime thriller, please put some women characters in it. Finally, to Jack Jones, ‘18, who is my best friend and someone I could not live without.

Maybe that’s dramatic. Whatever.

Alright. I’m out. <3

Jael Goldfine is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Objectivity Bites appears alternate Thursdays this semester. She can be reached at jgoldfine@cornellsun.com. 

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