In the mornings, like most people, I wake up. Then, begrudgingly, I rouse my attendant devices.
The laptop, which contains a bevy of unused words, unheard songs, unseen films and unedited stories, blares lascivious light into my eyes, even though I have no time to indulge its temptations. This recognition of my inability to do so is a point I’ve beleaguered many times now, yet it does little for my grumbles and gripes with Cornell’s creative impediments. In this sense, I continue to wonder if I will ever acquire the gumption and audacity to write how I truly feel, and what I truly want. Until then, there may very well be nothing for me here, so long as I remain on this campus.
On the way to class, I pass by a noisy willow tree, shivering in the autumn cold. Another tree, pummeled by the wind, looks as if someone uprooted the poor plant, then reattached several of the buried limbs to the behemoth’s head. The resulting abomination lacks aesthetic harmony, yet strikes me with an intrigue not unlike that felt during the summer. At that time, campus was littered with overzealous oaks, their boughs buckling under the excesses of the season. But now the ground is blanketed in death — the deceptively gorgeous kind, hand-crafted by Roy G. Biv himself. There is nothing here for me, though, because I am not doing as well as I would like in Japanese.
Still, as I trudge up the hill, I notice the little birds, stonily still until I pass. They scatter from their perfect camouflage, always twice as many as I thought I saw, then vanish into bushes. They display an aerial adeptness that is as brazen as their silent swiftness is bewildering. The birds strut so closely to you. They flutter up, hover and sink or glide in pairs of two or chase each other through the air. Of course, moments later, a chipmunk scampers across the steps and dissolves into a crack or half-covered hole in the ground. Nonetheless, there is not much time for contemplation, and thus not much for me here.
I always find myself stopping to pause at the plastered leaves and vines which tend to fan out over West Campus’ gothic architecture, layered and vibrant like an eagle’s wings. The feathers are unsure of themselves and their direction, so they alternate between aggregating in colorful clumps and climbing upwards in a straight line, clinging to the wall with dragon-esque tenacity.
However, I can’t afford to dwell on eagles and dragons. After all, I have been a bad student more often than I should have been and a much more flawed person than anyone seems to realize, yet I am tasked with advising freshmen from two different organizations and I share a classroom with another undergraduate in which we are charged with helping to facilitate the education of our peers on issues of social justice. In other words, people look up to me, and I try my best to give them a good reason to do so. But I am stretching myself in far too many directions, so there may well be nothing for me here anymore, unless I abdicate from all of my responsibilities.
Back to my walk. On the way from the Language Resource Center, I stop at Beebe Lake and sit on a seat-shaped boulder. There are a few fish (maybe koi?) floating a few inches beneath the surface, in a triangular formation. In the distance, ducks coast or rest on logs. A heron, nauseatingly cliché in its majesty, takes off from the concrete dam and glides just a few inches above the water. It lands in the tiny cove to my left. From there, I watch as it stalks through the mud and lily pads, painstakingly patient and slow, before striking and coming up with a struggling, squirming dragonfly.
But witnessing this sublime scene isn’t going to get me a job, an acceptance into grad school, or an A on that upcoming Forest Ecology prelim. Besides, I am easily bothered, slow to trust and more interested in observing or listening to people then interacting with them. So there must not be much for me here on a campus full of human beings, even as I watch a couple dance across the lake, two dervishes whirling about at the water’s edge. They kiss as the sun sets, and I know it’s time to move on.
On the way up the path to the Ag Quad, I stumble across an instructor from freshman year. I’m not sure if she can tell that I recognize her, but she bears the anxious, weary look of one yearning to connect with a distant memory. Apparently I wasn’t a nameless face in her intro bio lecture. As she slowly disappeared, the chill of the morning receded into the furnace of midday.
Later, I would watch an ant carry a leaf up a concrete bench, then a flake of orange as it twirled mischievously across a secluded meadow — could have been a butterfly or a leaf; I never found out. Anyway, after that, I crossed Thurston Bridge that night, pausing briefly to observe a spider, spotted dark brown with a bulbous abdomen and scrunched legs, crawl around in its web. There were dozens of them, some with legs extending like stilts outward, others aglow in the lights lining the underside of the railing. They had caught quite a lot of food, and I stopped when I noticed two in particular that were mating. I felt incredibly intrusive, so I walked away.
There’s nothing here for me at this school where I’ve failed more often than is acceptable, disappointed more people than I ever planned to and become about as sure of my love for writing, art and social justice as I have become unraveled by my distaste for school. The construction workers on the Ag Quad are working on a project that I won’t be around to see, so I suppose it’s time for me to go. Their monstrous machines, with churning bellies and bruising claws, move about without much regard for me. The people who operate them, though, are frighteningly nice. The silhouettes of slumbering beasts, mounds of dirt and stacks of wood or slabs of concrete are somehow promising, because they portend beauty.
There is nothing for me on this campus, even though I recently saw a flower growing out of a trunk the other day, and listened to the gentle splashes of a bird bathing in a tiny pool of rainwater.
You’re getting the director’s cut, of course; this is just a diminutive fragment of my collected footage. I’m obsessed with watching the world work and breathe, and I can thank my time here for that I suppose. The aforementioned documents would not be as full and wide if not for the nothingness of this campus, too. In fact, now that I think about it, the critical introspection arose from a similar source. I could go on describing moments from campus for another 1000 words, easily. Maybe they would have a greater impact on you than these did, especially since I haven’t even begun to touch on all that people have shown and given me. Maybe not. Either way, this senior, tired of college as he is, isn’t so sure if there is nothing left. Not just yet.
Amiri Banks is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Honest A.B. appears alternate Mondays this semester.