Wednesday night I biked all the way to In-N-Out at one in the morning. It started out as a trip to get Mexican food at a taqueria on S. California Avenue, and then to Happy Donuts on El Camino, once I realized the taqueria was only serving alcohol that late. Well, really it started out as an attempt to escape for a little bit. As I wrote about last week, I was feeling like I was at rock bottom; this week I felt more like I was flint scraping along that bottom layer, just barely rising in elevation. I have evolved, or devolved, into an identity crisis of sorts. This is the best I can do to explain it:
Part of this crisis is figuring out who I am as an academic — I know I want to build my own curriculum in one of Stanford’s many great interdisciplinary programs, but which one, I am unsure. STS was one of the reasons I chose to come to Stanford and could make the difference between my being a straight-up fuzzy or having some technical proficiency, yet American Studies has always been up my alley and the Philosophy and Literature track sounds increasingly appealing as SLE draws to an end. But the majority of this crisis stems from bigger issues.
I’m currently in an IntroSem called “Can Machines Know? Can Machines Feel?” which is a computer science class examining the philosophy behind strong artificial intelligence. As a “fuzzy,” this class has meant less to me about whether machines can or will be able to mimic the human mind and more about what it means to be human, to be conscious, to have free will (if we have it at all) — questions of that sort. Couple this with our spring SLE curriculum, which moves forth into modernity in all of its violence and mass production and sex and existential crises, as well as my realization that my winter quarter problems didn’t simply disappear, and you can get a small glimpse into why I’m feeling so lost. I’ve been wondering what it means to be growing up in the 21st century — whether society is progressing, or whether our morals and intellect are declining as a result of our changing culture; I’ve been wondering what it means to be happy and whether our generation is or can be any happier than other periods in history; I’ve been wondering who I am as a person and how my future will appear. And yet another part of my crisis stems from self-induced academic stress.
As I expressed in “Mid Year Evaluation,” an op-ed I wrote for the last volume in January, I’ve had a fear of “failure” — a fear of achieving anything less than my expectations of perfection. “Nobody’s perfect” is something my mother still reminds me, and while I understand this (and will be the first to list all of my flaws), I excuse myself from this adage with the following logic: I’m not perfect, but my standards can be and my imperfect self can aim for those standards. For the first time in a while, I felt the feeling of failure.
For the last two weeks, I’ve been agonizing over an oral presentation in SLE that counts towards what exempts SLE students from having to take PWR. So far, everyone in my section has blown us away with thoughtful, original and nuanced arguments that shed light on the texts we’ve read in a new way. I missed the mark for finishing the reading on time with my depressive lack of motivation (described last week), and part of my anxiety stemmed from the fear that I wouldn’t and couldn’t match my classmates’ stellar performances. So, even though I started my assigned Freud reading the week of April 18, I did not finish said text until Wednesday night. As of nine a.m. yesterday, I had nothing, and while the impending deadline forced me to put something together, it did not come anywhere near my standards. And somehow, that was liberating.
So was something about my late night bike ride. It felt great to get away from campus, to be under an empty black sky, to feel the fluorescence and emptiness of suburban California at night and to just be one with my thoughts. I recognized that I couldn’t simply escape my problems, that I’ll have to deal with them eventually.
I started feeling liberated and being more realistic about my expectations on Wednesday, when I officially asked to take an incomplete in SLE and hand in my Marx term paper after our deadline in just over a week. While I’m aiming to finish the paper before I leave Stanford for the summer, I feel much better giving myself the time I need to figure out my problems. While we do pay to grow academically at Stanford, I think another equally important part of the experience is to grow as individuals, and that’s what I’m doing now.
Kristian is wondering if anyone wants to join him for another late night bike run to In-N-Out. Sign up at kbailey ‘at’ stanford.edu.