March 3, 2019

KAMBHAMPATY | Was I Supposed to Become an Adult After All of This?

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I still draw on napkins while waiting for food at restaurants. I doodle all over my class notes to the point of illegibility. I run and jump around at parties to a bubbly extreme. I go to thrift shops and try on faux fur coats layered on top of each other. I eat Toblerone bars as if my metabolism hasn’t changed since I was 15.

Four years of undergrad has done nothing to me. Absurdly late nights in libraries, countless networking sessions at the Statler Hotel, the daily “So what do you plan on doing after you graduate?” question . . . somehow, none of these things have made my wide-eyed practice of going about everyday life disappear.

The beauty that the mind of a child holds is the ability to find great excitement in everyday actions and objects. Children have so many unlived experiences that most things they come across are new to them, and therefore, feel novel and exciting. But even when we are older, every time we do something, no matter how trite, we do it with some level of new lived experience. Theoretically, we have a new lens or background for it. Between brushing your teeth in the morning and brushing your teeth at night, a whole day goes by filled with lived moments that make you an altered person by the second time you brush your teeth that day. And then there’s a whole Identity of Indiscernibles Principle. First articulated by Wilhelm Gottfried Leibniz, the axiom states that “no two distinct things exactly resemble each other.” I extrapolate this to lived experiences, arguing that no two actions done at two separate points in time can be the same; brushing your teeth now is very different from brushing your teeth in 20 hours, 20 minutes, or 20 seconds. So isn’t every lived moment novel? Each time we experience something, we come to it with a new set of eyes. Heraclitus summed this dually-faceted idea up in 544 B.C. better than I can: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Why act like this isn’t the case when it just dulls the finite moments of experience we get to live?

Ossify is a really frightening word that means to cease developing, to be stagnant or rigid. I first came across it when reading about Olivia Laing’s newest work, Crudo. “It’s about the longing to escape our ossified selves — to become, if only for a moment or within the pages of a novel, someone wilder and more radically free,” Katie Kitamura wrote for The New York Times Book Review. The process of ossification brings a halt in our minds’ progression by thinking “well this is as X as I’ll ever be, it’s over now.” Adulthood brings this. Being a senior in college seems to bring this as well.

For a while, I feared my mind’s inevitable ossification. When I looked at the course roster for the last time to pick courses for my final semester, I hit a wall. I had finished most of my requirements, so everything I was choosing was an elective. I looked at writing courses, art courses, history courses, computer science courses… I found myself haunted by the voices in my head that were telling me “What’s the point? This is your last semester. Your time for growth is over now.” Would taking another writing course really make me a better writer at this point? Was it even feasible to develop a new hobby or interest this late? What would it lead to? I saw less and less a point in any sort of academic exploration. But I wonder if ossification truly is inevitable or if it’s a choice. Maybe, holding a youthful spirit can serve as the antidote to ossification. Maybe that’s what can allow us to continue growing or stay curious — viewing every moment as the new experience it really is.

There are a number of speculated reasons as to why children and younger people are better at learning foreign languages than adults, including the fact that the information is less complex to digest for them because of a lack of cognizance of grammatical rules, children’s brain chemistry is built to absorb information so they can even do it subconsciously, and they are less self-conscious of making mistakes or sounding silly. So I can’t help but ask — can’t we adults adopt these behaviours ourselves? Why leave these habits at childhood, especially if they can help us become better learners? Maybe self-consciousness and high levels of stringency are optional aspects of the engrained adult demeanor that lead to ossification.

The point of this column was simply to muse — Was college supposed to make me a person who rids themselves of the juvenile habits of still thinking I can make a positive impact on the world, never holding back from picking up new interests, and laughing out loud at the silliest of jokes? Was I meant to get more cynical about the world? Lose my faith in the arts? My preliminary answer is no, what’s the point in that? I’ll continue to do all these childlike things and live out what Holden Caulfield was fearful of losing from his youth (yes, I think referencing The Catcher in the Rye as a 21-year-old is in itself a childish act that I’m refusing to let go of). I’ll see just how far my delusion and stubborn refusal to grow bored or become ossified take me. Get back to me in 20 years if you want to see the result of this experiment. In other words, we’ll see then if I eventually learn how to pay my taxes and hold a job or am just living in my parent’s basement scraping together funds for more Toblerone bars.

Anna P. Kambhampaty is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at akambhampaty@cornellsun.com. This Imagined Life runs every other Monday this semester.