When I think of fall, it seems incredibly long ago. I had different roommates, different classes. I was a little wider in the hips, a little more twinkly in the eyes. After a summer away, I was re-energized and full of big plans. Forget sophomore slump; this was going to be my time to shine. Columbae! Friends! Maybe even a relationship? The night before school, I lay awake in my bed too excited to fall asleep; it grew light outside, and the dump trucks came, and still I was smiling.
In retrospect, the best moments happened when I was expecting nothing. In the spaces in between the big plans. Isn’t that always how it works? Coachella wasn’t the highlight moment of my year; finding an old Columbae alum sprawled on our floor, entranced by the star projector and that eventually leading to a chanting circle with a bunch of strangers was the highlight of my year.
Alas, life and Stanford are often at odds. My friend and I were having a conversation about this. When I say life, I mean people, conversations, play, leisure… the things that make you happy. In my experience, life exists in pockets at Stanford, penciled in with everything else.
I must confess, I have, of late, been prioritizing the latter more than I should. On weekends where I should have been doing my work like a responsible student, I went to a Killer’s concert in the city, explored the Mission, attended a concert at Bing alone. It was magnificent at times: I rediscovered a love for poetry, for the joy of giving into the music. I made memories; they may not be permanent, but they certainly have a greater shelf life than working in the cluster on a Saturday night.
Why the intervention? Why did I feel the need to pump a little blood into my spring quarter, when this year was already supposed to be the best year ever? Well, it wasn’t. At least not in the ways I expected. I expected it to be a never-ending stream of sunshine and rainbows and Instagrammed picture where my friends and I would be skateboarding down Mayfield in rally gear en route to some party.
This is not how years work. This is not how college works. And certainly is not how Stanford works, despite my valiant efforts. Life does not move in a steady stream but like a wave, undulating. I have experienced some high highs, but I also have experienced moments of darkness and these weigh upon my recollection of the year and cloud its better attributes. In truth, these will in time reveal themselves to be its gems. I will look back on lovesick or lonely nights and see that I did most of my growing during them.
That is one thing I know I do not possess as long as I’m here: perspective. I have a vague idea that I have grown as a human being, but I don’t have the time nor distance to see how. The emails are always pressing; the paper is always knocking on my door. When I allow myself to think, I think of what I have to do. And when I shut that impulse off, I think of home; I dream of how the light falls on the cornfields at 6 p.m. and how the soft-shell crab at my favorite Thai restaurant smells.
None of this is productive thought. It is just the wishful thinking of a soldier who allows himself to remember what ice cream tastes like and then dutifully sticks his eye back into the periscope; but the scent of ice cream, once triggered, does not leave and keeps pawing at his thoughts like a fruit fly, and soon the soldier regrets pausing to think about it in the first place, so much trouble has it caused. So maybe in time this will be the “best” year ever, but for now all I can think about is the route I have taken from Columbae to class for the past eight months, so fried is this brain of mine. “How has this quarter been?” I can’t even answer that question. My mind dulls and goes fuzzy and provides me with a useless grab bag of recollections: Killers concert… Coachella… Special D… if I manage to blurt out any of these, I sound like an idiot. So usually I am upfront about my myopia, which proves very unhelpful to any conversation so that I would not be surprised if I am on a blacklist for small talk partners.
Where to return to? Stanford, life, perspective (or rather lack of it), living without expectations… all of them are intertwined, and given my conundrum, I cannot only begin to piece out the hairs. I have learned a lot. And I have grown a lot. I keep expecting sophomore year to turn into the all-out party I somehow thought it would be, but maybe that’s not what I need right now. I can save that for next year, when I’m drinking in life abroad. Maybe what I needed this year was growth, pure and unadulterated growth and maybe it’s not pretty, but maybe it will look beautiful in retrospect.
I have just about one month left until departing into the great study-abroad-gap-year-unknown. I am scared by the uncertain look of my future, and so the fact that come June I can depend on ResEd to kick me out of Palo Alto is oddly comforting. I’ll fly home, collapse into my bed, remember the smell of my covers. At some point, I’ll emerge from my hibernation and start piecing together what this year meant to me.
Two months of this and I will grow bored, and then restless. So I will fly to a far-away place, reinvent myself through the gazes of strangers and thus the cycle will repeat. Rising and falling, rising and falling. Like a wave.
Alex would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.