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Courtesy of Frozen Reeds

April 22, 2018

COLLINS | It’s Not the Void

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When the universe wants to tell you something, it will tell you a few times. I take the same attitude with phone calls. Unless you call a few times or leave a voicemail, I’m not calling back. Late last night, when I was falling asleep to an episode of S-Town, I realized that I’ve been learning the same lesson for about a year.

I will graduate in almost exactly a month, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the lack of despair I feel about that fact. In the past, my friends who were seniors set down rules leading up to the big day. Don’t talk about how close they are to the end. Don’t ask them what they’re doing after. Don’t say the g-word. But when my therapist asked if I thought my anxiety partially resulted from the big, looming change, I probably shocked her with my extreme answer. “No, none of it,” I said, “absolutely zero percent.”

The utter joy that I feel about graduating is thanks to the series of realizations that I’ve had in the past year. Working backwards, the most recent came half a week ago at my thesis defense. I had written about Julius Eastman, the inventive composer, musician and dancer who had ended his life in near-complete obscurity. 15 years after his death, in 2005, composer Mary Jane Leach stimulated a resurgence of interest in Eastman, creating CDs of his archival recordings and inspiring myriad performances of his works. The renewed fascination with Eastman created a number of questions that I wanted to answer: What effects did reviving Eastman’s music posthumously have? Did Eastman want to be remembered after his death? Does it even matter if he did or didn’t?

When I stood up to leave at the end of my defense, I remarked to my committee, almost without thinking, “It seems like the only certain is that there’s still a lot of work to do.” It was a comforting epiphany. For better or worse, I’ve been a student for 16 years. Now, in a month, I’ll switch paths to being a… I don’t really know yet, to be honest. I’m not going to grad school (yet) and I don’t have a job lined up following another summer working on campus. On one hand, my days of being a student are behind me. On the other, they actually aren’t.

I’ve always enjoyed reading—either lying on the couch with a book or, for some reason, sitting up in bed reading copious amounts of Wikipedia articles for hours on end in the early morning hours. Continuing to learn, read, watch, think, argue, debate and critique doesn’t have to end just because I have a diploma. I daydreamed the other day and made a list of all of the things I want to learn about now that I don’t have readings assigned to me by professors. It included baseball, the Soviet Union, Phish, Will Eisner, San Francisco in the ’60s and ’70s and another large handful of barely related topics.

This realization went hand-in-hand with another that’s ebbed up from time-to-time. A little more than two years ago, I wrote a column about how I compensated for feeling like I didn’t know enough music, movies, books, etc. by just faking it. Just saying I had heard of, or even consumed, media when I hadn’t. I concluded by stating I would try to get rid of my anxiety about daring to not know every reference my friends made.

In the past year, I started going even further. I wasn’t just okay with how little I knew, or how little I experienced. I loved it. At the end of the day, I listen to music, watch movies, read books, etc. because I like doing so. The less I know means the more that I get to do the above things. I listened to Trout Mask Replica for the first time last week. Ditto with the Betty Boards recording of the Grateful Dead’s ’77 performance at Barton Hall. My Chrome bookmarks bar is filled with links to Amazon pages for books that I swear I’ll someday read. I have my whole life to do so.

The first realization, however, came at the very end of Ithaca’s beautiful August, when my older sister, Kit, was visiting. One of my friends mentioned that she was worried about graduating, that she didn’t know how to anticipate what came after. Kit, who’s in her mid-20s, responded with an answer I still remember: “It’s not the void.”

Shay Collins is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. Morning Bowl of Surreal appears alternate Mondays this semester. He can be reached at scollins@cornellsun.com.