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Courtesy of Oliver Kliewe / Sun File Photo

March 20, 2019

SWAN | Rome Is Burning

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Though I don’t graduate until May, I have decided to end my run as an arts columnist now, just a little past the halfway mark of my final semester at Cornell. One source of inspiration for my early retirement is the desire to step down and let another student stand atop this platform that I’ve been so fortunate to possess for the past three years. Furthermore, I simply feel as though I no longer have anything particularly polemical to say about arts or entertainment. The Muses stopped singing to me, to put it poetically, and I’m out of ideas!

But, now I have to write this final column of mine, a task that I feel woefully unprepared to accomplish adequately. It seems as though there are a thousand ways of approaching something like this, hundreds of angles to take and dozens of tones to adopt. I think I’ve settled on going for earnest here and reflecting upon the headspace I’m currently inhabiting as I approach graduation, even at the risk of sounding overly sentimental or morose.

Before I was a senior, I would often think about what I wanted to say in my last column, and I definitely imagined having some profound piece of sagacity that I could share, wisdom that only a second-semester senior who’s “figured it all out” could impart. Ironically, I’ve never felt more lost at Cornell than I do right now; it turns out that my 22-year-old self is not much more enlightened than my 20-year-old self. Of course, I’ve felt quite aimless here in the past, but at those moments in my younger years, all of the unknown things, the cosmic uncertainty of life as a college student, were so exciting. “Cosmic” is a fitting term here, because at that time in my life — especially around sophomore and junior years — I really did feel as though we all were just a bunch of atoms bouncing off of each other in a random pattern, where any coincidental encounter might lead to some profound experience or moment of clarity. Now, as the end of my time at Cornell nears with blinding rapidity, that time in my life seems to be despairingly far-away, accessible only by the stray Proustian moment that unlocks the lost past for a few seconds.

To spend any of these words mulling over the regrets I have from my years at Cornell would push the tone of this column from intensely nostalgic to sickening, so I’ll refrain from doing any cataloguing and mention just one thing I would change: For a music major, I spent a shamefully small amount of time making music with friends. The occasional jam sessions (thanks to Alex Hammond ’18 and his pedal-steel guitar) notwithstanding, I gradually unloaded a lot of my musical responsibilities over the semesters as I believed that my academic pursuits were more pressing. In fact, I forewent many things, possible friends and other potentially formative opportunities, because I wanted to devote so many of my hours studying in the stacks. All of this studying is the reason why I’m attending law school next year and for that I’m thankful, but there was certainly some cost to it. The paper chase is maddening at times when it causes you to disregard the things that make you happy and human.

From my first few weeks at Cornell to the present moment, the one thing that has remained a part of my life here with absolute consistency is my identity as a contributor, writer or columnist for the Sun, and for that I obviously have many people to thank. I’ve thought for a long time about who I might mention, but the list is too long and I’d inevitably leave someone out. To every fellow writer and editor (past and present), to everyone who has ever read this column (especially my mother, who’s this column’s biggest fan), to any person with whom I’ve ever had an inspiring conversation, thank you.

Right now I think of a lyric from a Talking Heads song that has remained in my head with remarkable consistency for the past four years: “Home, is where I want to be / But I guess I’m already there.” Of course, “This Must Be the Place” is a love song, but something about its encompassing lyrics makes me think about the vast expanse of the universe. It’s easy to get lost in such a place, but as the lyrics remind us, “home” is simply a mindset to be assumed amidst all of the change and uncertainty.

Many years from now, I’ll probably deem my present angst to be nothing more than senioritis, as so many other aspects of youth become normalized over time. But for now, Rome is burning, and unlike the apathetic Nero, I’m going to make the most of every second I have left.

Nick Swan is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at nswan@cornellsun.com. This is the final installment of his column Swan’s Song.