Being a second-semester senior in quarantine
(Edition no. 453) On stress-culture, stillness, & salvaging my last semester of college from the ravages of senioritis & quarantine.
With 3 weeks of college left, here's what I'm working on:
In my flute lessons, I’ve been revisiting orchestral excerpts & learning new pieces, with a lot of fundamentals in my practicing
I just finished the last round of intensive revision for my BXA capstone, a collection of creative writing that illustrates my experience as a musician growing up in diaspora through perspectives from Global Studies
I’m translating my research paper on Argentine folklore into Spanish (for an independent study to complete my Hispanic Studies minor)
I’m taking a class on the critical history of love, where we finished reading Arundhati Roy’s novel, The God of Small Things, for which I’m brainstorming a final paper on love, agency, & power
I'm working at the bakery counter & tutoring at CMU’s writing center
I’m working on this blog, publishing my first artist feature with another coming soon (!)
But if this list makes me sound driven & focused… that has never been farther from the truth.
Last week, my professor jokingly asked me how many jobs I had. I laughed and said, “Just those two.”
Nevertheless, it hung in the air. Not only am I double-majoring with a minor, but I’m working two part-time jobs.
I’ve built so much of my identity on doing a million things at once — the outcome of a lifetime steeped in cultures obsessed with achievement (first in the Bay Area, then at Carnegie Mellon).
These cultures' values infiltrated my relationship with my work. The more I was doing and the less sleep I was getting, the better.
Beneath excitement about my work, an unhealthy attachment to success compelled me to sacrifice sleep & food on a regular basis.
As a further strain, I'm a humanities & arts student in a tech-saturated school, where the unspoken bias is that non-tech people "have it easy" — so if I was doing something "easy," the least I could do was give it 150%.
So I did. By the middle of my sophomore year, I lost count of how many all-nighters I was pulling, how many meals I was skipping.
Being unhealthily busy made me feel, somehow, more worthy.
At places like CMU, we blur the line between passionately undertaking an intense workload, versus grasping at an image of success that compromises our health.
But if we constantly devalue our health in the name of achievement, we're losing sight of an essential task that upholds our inherent worth as humans: to take care of our bodies, minds, & souls.
But now, with every change the pandemic has brought, I’d be lying if I insisted I’ve approached these last weeks of college with the same work ethic.
If anything, the over-achiever identity I proudly wore since 5th grade seems lost down the drain.
To aggravate things, I’ve spent more time on social media, which means swallowing painful reminders of how others seem so much more productive.
"Others" includes one of my childhood flute idols. I stumbled upon her Instagram the other day, and found myself feeling like I’ve done nothing with my life, compared to the jaw-dropping brilliance of her music-making, the poignant elegance of her captions, her many artistic talents, her style, basically everything.
In my mind, her artistry & massive achievements were jeering at me for being so unmotivated, I’ve resorted to baby steps to start doing schoolwork again.
Days ago, I told myself, “Just translate five sentences,” to work on my independent study after putting it off for scandalously long. I ended up translating four pages, but never could have started otherwise.
I told myself, “Just play a simple melody for five minutes,” to pick up my flute after feeling like I’d lost all will to practice (related to the recordings I shared last week not being perfect). I ended up playing an hour of warm-ups and scales, but again, this wouldn't have happened otherwise.
The culture of achievement that ate me alive now cripples me. It feels like I can only do 150%, or nothing at all.
In focusing on the smallest tasks, I shift my attention away from what paralyzes me (achievement, the end-product) and embrace the process as something worthwhile, regardless of what it produces.
When it comes to practicing… It’s a grueling climb, but I’m rediscovering a place where I love my sound and practice simply for the music.
Before, practicing seemed the most radically, impossibly hopeful thing to do. It meant believing there will be a time, not too far-off, when I’ll be able to share my playing with people. A time when the work will pay off.
Slowly, I’m reconnecting with the part of me that loved playing so much, it didn’t matter who would or wouldn’t hear her.
The solitude of quarantine creates a space for me to untangle my worth from my work.
The silence of quarantine (which, admittedly, I've been extinguishing through relentless immersion in social media) invites me to be still. Through stillness, I sink my roots into what I believe about myself, my worth, and, since faith is how I ultimately make sense of everything, my God.
When business and chaos once again spill into everyday spaces, my hope is to hold fast to stillness.
In the midst of noise — like the noise of finishing college and pursuing a multi-faceted career — interior stillness will allow me to create from a place of compassion and strength.
From this place, my work can exude hope and joy, rather than a sense of grasping.
As a last thought, remembering how precious my education is — what an immense privilege — generally dispels any traces of senioritis.
To end, here are 3 pieces I’ve been wanting to share:
Since I mentioned my translation project — here’s a news article on the incredible work translators are doing for migrants who speak indigenous languages.
Related to the pandemic (if you aren't overwhelmed with news on COVID-19)... this testimony from an ICU nurse in New York City helped me keep my struggles with quarantine in perspective (also sharing this from a place of Pinoy pride).
I came across an Instagram post by Annie Wu, and it’s one of my favorite things! In a previous post, I wrote, “the loneliness of our playing speaks for itself." This was what I wanted to say, but I wasn't exactly sure what it meant. Annie’s post perfectly expresses what I meant, and more.