Monday, May 9, 2011

Harvard: The Bad.

I'm in a good mood, but I'm good at seeing bad things.

The Bad
- The people. It can be surprisingly difficult, especially for introverts, to make connections here. There is some level of intimidation going on starting freshman year. Almost all of us are incredibly Type A, either due to being overachieving "big fish in little ponds", or used to being a fish in a big pond, competitive high school who had to stand out to get anywhere special. A lot of us are pushed to succeed by external factors like family and social expectations, desires to work and make money and be whatever form of successful we find appealing. It can be hard to be friends with people who are figuring out how to stand above you internally. It can be hard to look outside yourself when you're consumed with insecurity and an urge to be the best, for yourself and for everyone. And we can't all be the best pre-meds on the planet.

- The opportunities. This is what we'd call a #firstworldproblem these days. Actually, pretty much everything on this list is a #firstworldproblem. The tough thing about having so many crazy amazing, appealing, unique opportunities is the instant madness of "What the hell do I choose? How do I maximize my enrichment?" and shit like that. Basically, if you're sane and a Type A, as established, you want to do...ALL OF THE THINGS. And there are so many things. You want to do all the dance groups, all the political groups, all the cultural and academic and social THINGS. But you can't or you'll go insane. I love the people that do but it isn't easy and it often hurts them or the people who want a slice of their time. And it's hard, but not impossible, to just not be aware of what and how is available - I know I was. I tried to be careful choosing the opportunities I wanted, was very successful sometimes and very not other times. I think this is the standard experience here.

- The support. This is gonna be tricky. Once again, I can say it's a matter of too many options, or not knowing the options. But this isn't quite applicable here. The matter of coddling is more legitimate, given the fact that the Harvard Bubble is still a Bubble and acts as a surrogate parent often. To a great extent, Harvard students don't really know how to take care of themselves or live on their own. Moreso, I can focus on the bad support that isn't quite bad enough to be Ugly. They can be overwhelmed with all the other things they're doing that they value more. They can push too hard, be too callous, cut out emotion in favor of expedience and rationality. This can be perfect, but rarely is, especially when a real emotional crisis is at hand. This has ruined some people's experiences here.

- The flexibility. I don't really know what to add that isn't already in the other Bad categories. Too many choices can be an unexpected burden. It's not always easy to know what's out there and how to get it. For a lot of people, it doesn't exist out of choice or compulsion. Especially for those of us who are pre-meds, double majors, people who don't know what they really want to do for perfectly legitimate reasons listed above, there's little choice for electives or actual intellectual flexibility. This was somewhat true for me when I was thoroughly pre-med and I have some regrets about that. For others it's disablingly worse.

So there we go. This should definitely affect someone's estimation of Harvard, or their considerations before entering. I wish I had known some of it earlier, thought some of them would be worse than they were, and predicted/panicked about some of it. It'll get worse with The Ugly, even though it's challenging for me to see it because I am the Queen of gratitude and privilege-guilt.

For the sake of continuity...FUUUUU

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Harvard: The Good.

I'll try to make this less navel-gazing. Just the beginning.

I was thinking of doing this for a while, but I was finally pushed into doing it because a) my finals are all jokes, b) I think it's important, and c) I had to take a "senior reflections" survey recently. My answers were unsurprisingly positive. I know there are other people I respect who had very different experiences, so I'll switch between our perspectives to try to get the whole story. No anecdotes because why bother.

My conclusion is that it's more than worth going here. I know nothing else other than hearsay from others, but I'm glad I made the somewhat risky decision. Even if my experiences weren't all positive, and for others they were mostly bad, I think the experience is incredibly important for the rest of their development.

I'm starting with The Good to spread these out. Feel free to contribute your own experiences, contrary or not.

The Good
- The people. Networking is key for most people, especially if their interest is business or even academia. This includes networking with fellow students. Minds meeting is priceless, whether the minds be flippant or brilliant.

- The opportunities. There are few places in the world gifted enough to offer international travel at this level, chances to work with faculty that are entirely worth working with, chances to produce and be creative and have a lot of options. I worry this makes a lot of people, including myself, entitled. Some would say that we earned it, and I think most of us have to various extents. I'm reluctant to agree, but I can accept that I have earned it. I went through some shit and worked my ass off to get here. I mostly deserve financial aid and the chance to eat at the Faculty Club and go to Greece and spend my time basically doing fun, useless-in-the-real-world crap for my degree.

- The support. I know many would disagree here, but in my own experiences and those of friends, I've found the support offered by faculty, counselors, doctors, and administrators immensely helpful and loving. No anecdotes, I know, but when my father died and I was utterly lost and worried about the implications for my academics, I was nursed and carried along by some wonderful people who had no need to do so. They just did. They didn't do it through email or put me on a shelf to work on a host of other things they do in addition to helping people. Even when the crises weren't real crises, and when I was reluctant and scared to ask for help, I was supported. They don't judge or act dispassionate unless you want and need it. They are doing exactly the right work they should and I wish more people like that existed in the places the people I love who are hurting are.

- The flexibility. Yes, it exists. If you can't find classes worth taking...a major you care about...the room to think for yourself and be creative...the chance to make the most or the least of the overwhelming opportunities you're offered...then you need to open your eyes or listen to your friends and advisors. Sorry if that's a bit harsh but I really, really believe it. Compare what you're getting to what your friends back home are getting. It's not fair at all. Take advantage of it so that you can hopefully give back to other people who deserve the same and more.

That's enough for now. I'm doing the positive now because I'm in an ungodly good mood. MOOD INSTABILITY COMES IN HANDY, Y'ALL. I'll try to dispassionately do The Bad and The Ugly today and post them when I'm in a worse mood. But I want to write now because my fingers are restless and fuck if I'm working more on the study sheets that I am the ONLY PERSON CONTRIBUTING TO FUUUU.

Saturday, May 7, 2011


Sorry for the delay, those of you who are interested in reading these things. Here's another navel-gazing ditty, in which I meant to write about one form of security but ended up writing about another.

So. Security can mean a lot of things, especially in my life. Security was once my main obstacle to living. It was my father's obsession, which made it my own. It kept me from living in the world for fear of whatever terrible things it could do to me. This was compounded by my own fears of the terrible things I could do to the world – terrible usually meaning...causing someone any slight inconvenience. So I and my father receded into the most secure place of all, deep into our house for him, and deep into myself for me. I made my own world where I was the only one who could get hurt, which was completely fine by me, and I even if I did get hurt I would have a net of fantasy to catch my fall. Or the ones who really got hurt were the avatars in my head who stood in for the friends and feelings I didn't let myself experience. I wish that wasn't psycho-babble, but it's pretty accurate.

Flash-forward, I weakly attempted to rebel as a teenager by pushing back against my father's restrictions and pushing myself into the world. This manifested in such wild ways as walking to the post office by myself, taking the subway to Berkeley to meet a friend – things of that nature. I tested the waters of risk but not as much as I perhaps should have. It grew more and more clear over the years, mostly in retrospect, how much of the limiting factor was actually me, my own fears, my own paranoia that had perhaps been planted by him but was lovingly cultivated by my own neuroses. This obviously became much clearer after my dad died.

Where was I then? I had taken a small hop outside of security by choosing to go to college at Harvard, many miles away from everything approaching comfort, but still a bubble that probably wouldn't let me hurt myself any more than I could at home (which...was a significant amount). Unsurprisingly, Dad and even Mom were uncomfortable with this at first, despite their consuming pride in what I had managed to do, what they apparently believed I had the potential to do all this time. My mom and maybe Dad too gently pushed me out of the nest to watch me fly despite the many factors making it more likely that I would crumble beneath.

Dad died a month into my time at Harvard – first time away from home, no friends, too far to get back in time, etc. That's another story that I don't really feel the need to share because I have so much already, and even though it's clearly affected much of my current life, it's no longer a matter scorching at the surface of my skin to get out and be told. The result was, in short, a loss of all feelings of security, control, a belief that things could sort of happen in a way I could predict and handle. I could have predicted this but I didn't. Maybe nothing could really be predicted, or known in advance, or hoped for, or matter. The center no longer held, there was no center.

I'll fast-forward again through a lot of foolishness and emotional purgatory. I've come to accept that I have to be my own center, at least. At first, and now too, I struggle with the idea of needing so very deeply to be the center for the people I love – who are a LOT of people. I usually feel this is more important than being my own, thinking about what I need and so forth. If anyone I love – or all of them – is faltering, then I need to be the stable one. I need to reassure them and make sure I make the good things I promise happen. Dad tried to be that, and to a great extent succeeded, so it became my job, for my extended family.

But as I said, I recognize that being my own center is far more important, even if I don't always put it into practice. I can let myself live in the world and live in it AS IT IS – that is, in the chaos, the unpredictability, the wondrous and tragic mishaps, the risks and the protection I give when it's necessary. My head dominates me more than it should, but the effect has gotten much better. I no longer live inside it, I believe, nor am I dissociated from it. It keeps me centered. It reminds me to evaluate, to trust, to trust chaos and predictability and the constants that...probably aren't constants, but can be treated as such.

We don't know where or how fast or what properties the electron has. But we can successfully predict its behavior if we act as if we know some of these key pieces of information, by basically treating them as irrelevant – or at least, as foregone conclusions. This is how I need to remind myself to live my life, in a less dispassionate way than the physicist, if possible. On a Principle of Uncertainty, with a dab of rational and emotional security.