I tend to take the opinion that banality is beautiful. Where columnist Kelly Song ’20 rejects the stability of suburbia, I often revel in it. I love my suburban home, my little white neighbors with their little white dogs, the purple minivan that I drove semi-embarrassedly during high school, cutting up oranges for soccer games, the whole schtick. Life isn’t as full of ups and downs as sappy aphorisms would have you believe; it’s mostly steady lines. As I’ve written about before in some form or another, delighting in mundanity is wonderful. It’s a lot like peanut butter: maybe not as fabulous as a pâté (a food that I just learned about by Googling “fancy spread for crackers”) but rich and heavenly when savored. Smooth yet familiar.
The past several weeks, though, I’ve been living in stagnation. I am in stasis, and stasis is the enemy of good writing. I have fallen into routine, and at the ripe age of 20, I have run out of experiences.
My friends at other universities — who mainly come from a similar middle and upper-middle class suburban, immigrant upbringing as me — have many of the same gripes. We are risk-averse, likely the very result of our peaceful suburban childhoods and our parents having already borne the burden of the necessary risks. My friends from home and I raised our eyebrows at a girl from our high school who moved to France with her boyfriend after graduation, another who took time off from college to live in Senegal. We dismissed their decisions as those of privileged people who were ungrateful for how easy their upper-middle-class suburban lives were. That’s a crass way of putting it, but it’s the most frank description of our judgement.
Yet now, I find myself with this itch to escape this routine of stagnation, at least briefly. I envy Paul Russell’s ’19 flowery descriptions of spontaneously hiking the Adirondacks or my friends who are country-hopping across Europe right now. It’s grim, truly, that I am 20 years old and spend most of my time answering emails and doing problem sets. I have been saying “no” to a lot of things in the hopes that a hundred nos will someday materialize into a massive, strong yes.
I know I sound whiny. This lack of excitement or passion or experience, though, is very visceral, not to mention a common and well-documented phenomenon: One of my friends gave up a White House internship because it would put him behind a year at school, noting, “I chose comfort over adventure.” Another, an aspiring academic, says he’ll probably be doing the same kind of stuff his whole life. “I’ve been trained to value stability and traditional success,” he tells me, “so I’m not compelled to change.”
Stagnation among students at elite colleges is a symptom of a larger academic and professional system that incentivizes predictability and routine. The longer I can stand to do the right things, to continue sending emails and finishing up projects, the better chance I have of getting into a good law school or grad school or internship. This is hardly a novel insight; even Dr. Seuss has written about it, in Oh the Places You’ll Go, referring to it as the famous “Waiting Place”: “You can get so confused/that you’ll start in to race/down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace/and grind on for miles cross weirdish wild space,/headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.”
The narrator resolves this terrifying tension by simply writing “Somehow you’ll escape,” which is not at all convincing. Escape is not a given. The ideal conclusion to this discomfort would be that I have decided to take a trip to Maine next weekend or that I’ll be skipping all my classes this week in order to write my debut sci-fi screenplay, which I will be then filming with only an iPhone and submitting to Cannes. These are, of course, not viable options. Time is a limited resource and the status quo is uninspiring, but not tragic. I want to be able to pick a side, to drop everything and take humongous, loud and powerful risks, or to really, genuinely love and appreciate the stability I have.
Instead I, like so many others, am stuck in the middle, wondering which side has the greener grass. Paralyzed by fear, numb from stasis. And so I default to continuing with mundanity, the easier choice; there’s less fear of the unknown, but a whole lot more to be desired.
Pegah Moradi is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. All Jokes Aside appears alternate Mondays this semester.