I sat in a cafe on the Lower West Side of Manhattan. My copy of The Goldfinch rested on the table next to a steaming pot of Genmaicha tea. A bookshelf spanned one of the walls of the cafe, putting on show the well-worn books with tattered covers and dog-eared pages. Looking up, plants and exposed lightbulbs hung from the ceiling. In this little space, I could escape from the frigid December air and hectic noise of the city and forget about everything except for the book in front of me.
I spent roughly one hour and 10 minutes twice a week for an entire semester discussing the body. I’ve thought that after the amount of time spent reading about this physical entity — and believe me, even English classes about the body know how to work you — and pondering over its purpose, I thought I would come closer to understanding what this thing I’m living in is. The body to me is such a beautiful thing. The unique aspects of each and every body fascinates me. I think it’s lovely the way skin folds and smooths.
A week has passed since my initial feelings of anger, pain and shock over the election. There are people who have already so eloquently summed up their thoughts on the results and shared in my grief. But I can’t forget that morning, feeling the heaviness in my heart, and thinking, I’ve never been so disappointed to call myself an American right now. As I walked to class, there was a melancholy that permeated the campus. Students’ heads were bowed.
A few days ago, I began seeing numerous people on my Facebook feed “checking in” to Standing Rock Indian Reservation. As of yesterday, over 1.3 million people have done this. I knew this was related to the Dakota Access Pipeline, but I was confused by its direct purpose. Just like people were able to put a French flag banner over their profile pictures to show their solidarity with Paris after the terrorist attack, I assumed this was a similar type of coming together. Checking in to the location on Facebook serves as a way to make a statement against something that is capable of inflicting disastrous consequences.
“‘Being here is a kind of spiritual surrender. We see only what the others see. The thousands who were here in the past, those who will come in the future. We’ve agreed to be part of a collective perception. This literally colors our vision.’” Although this observation comes from a fictional character in Don Delillo’s novel White Noise on how people react to a famous tourist attraction, it also supports my recent — and admittedly strange — obsession with how life may be a series of illusions created by society that hinders our ability to see things for what they really are.
When I first caught sight of the Biosphère in Montreal, Quebec, I remember telling my parents that I had to see it up close. I was struck by the design of the exterior of the sphere, a fantastic webbing of steel and acrylic cells. It was a structure that I could see looming over Parc Jean-Drapeau from my spot in downtown Montreal, a lace orb that stood out among the dense trees of the island and contrasted with the uniformity of the city’s buildings. Upon arriving on the island, I realized that the Biosphère holds an interactive environment museum that showcases exhibitions on major environmental issues as well as activities that allow the public to learn about water, climate change, air and sustainable development. I paid a fee I thought to be too expensive for the “knowledge” I would gain from the museum.
Some memories of my first few years of education still stick with me. Like in kindergarten, when one of my classmates spilled yogurt all over his binders and I helped him clean up the mess. My teacher, so surprised that a young child could embody selflessness, wrote a note to my parents congratulating them on their daughter’s unsolicited kindness. Or when, in first grade, I answered a certain number of questions in class correctly and was able to pick a prize out of the “treasure chest.” I was so excited. I remember rummaging through the gaudily decorated box, debating whether to choose the pink bunny puppet or the duck one.
Summer has come to an inevitable end, but conversations about what happened during that time never seem to. Aside from internships and jobs, a widely talked about subject that always seems to remain is travel. When people come back from trips abroad, it’s not uncommon for me to hear them say, “I’ve changed. No one here understands me.” And that’s something I’ve been guilty of numerous times in the past. It makes sense: nobody has gone through exactly what you’ve been through or felt what you’ve uniquely felt. An acquaintance of mine who seems to spend more time on a plane than in school went to social media to describe his numerous travel experiences and how wonderful it was — how blessed he felt — to travel to different countries.
For my first article of the semester, I originally intended to publish an article I began writing in the summer. It was a sweltering hot day in July, I remember, and I had been jostled around on a crowded train for far too many hours. I was left with only my thoughts and not much else, with the cramped spaces leaving all else impossible. Strange things happen when my mind is left entirely alone with time to ponder, reflect, think and analyze; some of my proudest epiphanies are born when I’m forced on these long rides. A particular thought hit me on the train and from there, my fingers were flying.
With only around three weeks of freshman year left — and that includes the study period and finals — the nostalgia is real. Even though I’m only a freshman and I can’t imagine what the seniors are going through, there’s something special about the first year at a university; there are some things that happen freshman year which will most likely never happen again. Will I miss the lack of air conditioning in my dorm room? The buffet-style dining halls that make me eat far more than necessary to make up for the over-priced swipe? The cramped living quarters that make catching a cold all-year round inevitable?