Saturday, March 26, 2016

Winter 2016 Reflections

I haven't been blogging as much this quarter, so I feel as though there's a backlog of things to think about. Writing the Ubermadchen post helped me go through a lot of it, since much of the thoughts and issues I've been working through this quarter aren't new. Issues of identity, of responsibility...

Liebe ist Alles - Adoro

But I am going to be honest. The biggest, deepest, most important lessons I've learned this past quarter are about love. Not necessarily romantic love--but love for friends, and what that means, and how to show love, and how it's not some big showy thing, but rather in the little things. Staying up late because they need someone to talk to. Knocking on their door, for friends in the same dorm, or not being shy about texting "Missing you. Are you free for brunch this weekend?" to friends who aren't. Regular compliments. Referencing in jokes because it's something you share. Sharing cajun fries. Saying hello first. Inviting people along to things. Making plans to do fun things together. To be honest, compiling this list is making me sad because I'm going to be away from campus in the spring, and I have friends over whom I cried because I won't be seeing them for six months or more. Some of them didn't even get a grace period between us saying goodbye and me crying--because I have friends with whom I feel safe enough to cry. Which is, quite frankly, as astonishing as it is wonderful.

Recognizing and receiving love is also important. Telling a cis straight friend about my dysphoria--and being listened to with compassion. Making up with a friend with whom I had been on rocky terrain. Not second-guessing warm greetings. I'm still a Captain Obvious, so this list is shorter, but the idea is to openly appreciate of kind actions.

So: love. Perhaps a cliche. But loving my people--thinking about what I could do to make them happy, recognizing that protectiveness is only unpatronizing when it benefits their well-being as well as my sense of honor, listening and being listened to, sometimes just sitting there, each person doing their own thing, making stupid remarks to one another but mostly in silence--that, I think, is the most important thing I've learned this quarter.


Okay, what else?

A lot of this is stuff I've begun working through already. But here goes--

Context matters. My very first quarter the words the world is path dependent became a kind of mantra. I think then, I was more thinking in terms of understanding how the world came to be. But understanding context is also important in order to act effective and ethically in the present and future. Look at yourself and ask what actions you may be taking that are hypocritical, that are damaging, that are unethical. For example, I am typing this at night, necessitating use of electricity that is probably produced by fossil fuels. Where did the rare earth minerals in my electronics come from?

I will have lived on three different continents in the past year once I get on that plane to Germany on Sunday. And yet--are there not problems at home to be solved? Am I not better equipped to deal with those problems, being more familiar with the local situation and the local sentiment? Am I even familiar--or have I let myself become too trapped in the bubble?

Asking for help is important. Go to office hours, go to office hours, go to office hours, you fool. In terms of extracurrics, give people responsibility and thank them for taking it on. Don't be afraid to delegate.

Life is not going to wait for you to finish school. Build the skills you need now, if you can.

On identity: be aware of ways that the system as it stands may benefit you, probably at the expense of another group. I've always loathed the "model minority" stereotype, but thinking about how it is used against other racial groups, such as blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans, has given me more reasons to hate it. If you are in a relatively privileged state (for example, an upper-middle class kid in a conversation on SES), monitor how much you talk relative to people for whom the problem is more immediate. Be careful. People don't want to be coddled but they also don't need to hear yet more bigoted garbage.

Re: gender--this quarter I had a day that was pretty horrible for dysphoria (as in, "fantasizing about ripping out organs" horrible). When people refer to me as "she/her" it takes me a moment to figure out who they're talking about. There's this female version of me that I wear like a disguise. That thought is actually kind of comforting: it's okay that all my professional attire is made for women, because I'm putting on a disguise anyway. It's okay. It's not permanent. I've talked to various people about gender identity vs. gender expression, and my discomfort with the fact that I'm both non-female and non-feminine and that I feel the need for the latter in order to broadcast and get social validation for the former trait. As I mentioned in the UM post, my relationship with femininity is contentious and dynamic, and I fear doing something wrong, doing something that is harmful to female and feminine people.


Mostly, I think this quarter has been a continuation of the message: take responsibility. Take responsibility for your personal relationships--your friends should not have to question whether or not you love and support them. Take responsibility for your deeds and what they mean in the world that we have grown into. Take responsibility for the groups and projects in which you take part.

Take responsibility for your health. This is a chastisement, but also a bit of a celebration. Last winter quarter I neglected my health and took it as a point of pride that no one could tell. This quarter, I definitely did not get enough sleep, but I gave myself enough time to eat a solid lunch and dinner with my friends, and if I had stuff messing with my head (dysphoria, job anxiety, etc.) I would talk to people.

Next quarter's challenges will, I am sure, be something else altogether--in addition to the trends of this quarter. It will be more difficult to support my friends from an ocean away, but I can at least keep up contact. Damned if it seems clingy--these people matter to me. Am I nervous about being in a European capital, given the attacks of the past few months? Yeah, a little. But awful things could happen here, too.

I feel, subjectively, far more comfortable and grounded in myself than I used to. After the seismic shifts of freshman year, I am back to seeing myself as a continuous person on a trajectory. That is good. I am building something.

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