April 23, 2024

WILLIAMS | Light in Boston

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I was depressed in Chicago when I did the interview. I sat bleary-eyed in front of my computer screen trying, and so desperately failing, to look as animated as possible. The position was as an assistant for a high school journalism program at an Ivy League university. My job would be to invite speakers from the journalism industry, coordinate travel and lunches, shepherd the students around campus and ultimately scaffold the program from conception to execution.

“What stories have you been following in the news?” the interviewers asked.

I stuttered. “Uh, uh, well, I’ve been feeling depressed lately and haven’t had much energy to read.” Was this radical honesty? Self-sabotage?

Somehow, I still got the job. I arrived at the tree-lined streets of the college town, moved into campus housing and proceeded to lie in bed the entire weekend, until work started on a Monday at the beginning of June. But things did not improve. Day after day that first week, my supervisor piled on tasks big and small — find and make contact with political candidates for a press conference, get students access to the press box at a sports game, plan an investigation for the students to report out, decide what to have for every meal of every day of the program.

The volume of the tasks was overwhelming — but what worsened it all was that I felt there was little tutelage, little mentorship. The other intern and I (though she fared much better) were thrown into the world of intensive planning without so much as an orientation. I quit the job on Saturday after the first week, and returned, shamefully, to Chicago.

Looking back, though, I have realized the true stumbling block, the true albatross: my inability to imagine myself in the town and completing the work — what it would feel like to walk down the shady streets and sit on the main quad, the sense of accomplishment I would feel after completing a difficult task. This is a lesson I’ll take with me as I embark on a new job as a fellow at a Boston magazine this summer.

A key difference: I have begun to imagine myself in Boston and Cambridge. Small cities across the river from one another, they both brim with culture, music, cafés, museums, college and local bars, bookstores.

I strolled through Boston on Google Maps Street View and saw myself sitting on a bench at Cambridge or Boston Common while, all around me, children played tag and rolled in the soft grass, staining their knees and blue jeans green. And friends would prop themselves up on their elbows on jackets or picnic blankets and happily pop bright, crunchy blueberries into their mouths. I saw myself riding a bike on the paths of the Harbor Islands, yards away from the blue waters of the Massachusetts Bay. After work, I’d drink an early evening black tea and sit at the window of the café, scribbling idle lines into a little notebook. At night, I would have a Corona at a Harvard Square bar and chat with students and strangers. On the weekends, I’d stroll through a farmers market in a midday sun while a busker’s cool strumming lifted itself into the air; I’d buy raspberries and bread on which to spread salted Irish butter. At work, I’d talk loftily with my coworkers about ideas – and just that word encompassed so much — and writing and what it means to edit and think.

Most of all, I imagined myself doing a good job. This did not mean perfection. It meant making a mistake now and then, asking questions, trying my best, thinking hard about the writing I read and challenging myself to expand my old ways of considering life and writing. I lived in the world of these imaginings.

Contrast this to the way I entered last summer’s position — without seeing myself in the places and activities I found beautiful, without daring to trust that I would perform and perform well.

This tool of visualization is even useful in my day-to-day life. I imagine myself at meetings I don’t want to attend, perhaps chatting with a friend afterward or treating myself to a cold drink after having gone. I picture myself at classes I want to skip, enticing myself with the notion that I might learn something I find exciting, that I might say something that surprises me with its depth.

As we students begin our summer internships, as seniors enter the world, as the end-of-semester slump takes hold, the depressed among us must turn to a tool that is always with us, always within our reach if only we push ourselves to outstretch our hand — that of hoping, wishing, seeing, envisioning, mentally and then physically putting ourselves in places we find rewarding and even beautiful.

Finley Williams is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]. Kaleidoscope runs alternate Tuesdays.