I'm trying something new today! I wrote my blog post and then read it aloud (speech-like) in a podcast format - this time it's on activist work and relaxation. I've done this before with fictional stories, but not as much with creative non-fiction, so this is my stab at it. Let's hope that after a few tries I can get into a more natural speaking rhythm! Transcript after the jump.
1. Making art for the sole purpose of making something.
3. Trying out a new exercise. (swing dancing club, hurrah!)
4. Making a list of hopes and fears.
5. Slowly eating something delicious.
6. Doing only as much as you can and not pushing past that.
7. Watching a TV show that's been off the air for years. (Murphy Brown, I'm looking at you!)
8. Floating around the internet looking for nothing in particular.
9. Closing your eyes for an instant (or a half hour, whichever you prefer) and focusing on your breath.
10. Hosting a 1-2 spontaneous dance party.
11. Listening to music from your childhood. (N*Sync sing-along, anyone?)
12. Trusting yourself as your own guide.
Every morning at 7:40am, I crack my eyes open to the early darkness of my single room, plunge down from my lofted bed, and unsteadily march towards campus.
I don't have a class. I'm not really a morning person. But I arrive at school at 8am and make my way down to the Barnard athletics department, still somewhat groggy, to plunge myself into the water and swim laps for half an hour to start the day.
Your question is probably "why?" It doesn't seem very appealing - to dunk yourself in cold water and exercise straight away in the morning. But since I have started working to save the Barnard pool from being closed this year, I've gotten more and more attached to that space. Attached enough to beat back my morning sleepiness and start swimming there every day that the pool is open, at the only time that I'm available to before all the hustle and bustle of the day.
I’ve heard it called the “learning edge” by Pam Phayme,
Director of Barnard’s Office of Diversity Initiatives—that place where you feel
like you’re stepping out onto the precipice of your comfort zone. You’re not
falling off, completely unmoored from everything you know, but neither are you
completely secure in the comforts you’ve enjoyed before. Taken in an academic
context, it means that you’re willing to entertain new thoughts and take on new
experiences. It’s similar when separating yourself from home: you push your own
boundaries to avoid stagnation. This will look different for everyone and isn’t
determined by such arbitrary factors as days spent on campus or off.
I stare down the long dark tunnel trailing away from me, searching for the two pinpricks of light that would indicate the train's arrival. Standing on the platform, watching the express pass by me and watching the frozen faces of passengers on their commute home, my stomach became soft, dropping like an empty sack to the base of my abdomen and resting there. The city I live in is a place where you catch these kinds of snapshots every day - the thin black man on the subway scowling into his newspaper or the young Asian woman frying eggs in her pink bra through the apartment window.
It's been written about before. In movies, they try to use it to symbolize human isolation - how we can be so close, but so distant from one another. Bleak urban life. The tragedy of the commons. But in some ways I find it refreshing, that we can carry on our own complex lives and others can catch snippets of them with just a casual glance. That our trajectories are shifting away from each other, even though we live in carbon-copy apartments just one floor above. I'll say it again: it's the complexity that allows us to see that we are not all part of a hive mind or a machine. Our communities must be forged, not taken for granted by being near one another.
This is the absolute opposite from the situation in collectivist cultures.
Back on campus now, I'm in what I consider a very safe environment; I'm able to take on my everyday roles and feel bonds of community without really having to seek it out. Most people speak English, so I don't need to learn to communicate. We go to our favorite restaurants and know how to work the subway system. Vulnerability isn't forced upon me, as it was in Bangladesh, where everything - right down to the beds we slept on - required adjusting to. But that threshold of vulnerability, I realized, is what keeps me growing. Which means I seek it out here.