i hate ipods, vol i

Welcome back my friends. As you’re getting settled again, for the second article in a row I’m writing from a train, going to a grad school, this time it’s the University of Pennsylvania and Ohio State back to back. I’m enjoying the scenery of industrial Pennsylvania, one coal field at a time.

And at times, that’s all I want to do. Just enjoy the scenery. But there are so many people. I decided for some reason (I blame it on having to board the train at 7:20 in the morning) to sit with in a four person area, meaning the two seats in my row face the people in front of me, which ultimately means instead of one person I now have to contend with three people, sitting no more than three feet away from me. Believe me when I say it doesn’t do much for the intimacy thing.

So right now, at two in the afternoon on Monday, I have three people around me: NYU journalism girl, Miami man, and Richmond. NYU journalism girl’s name is Amanda, but that’s the best I can remember.

Right now, if I were not writing this article about what I’m writing about, I’m fairly sure I’d love my headphones in, and draw into myself. There’s something much more secure and less vulnerable in putting my headphones in and being by myself. And that seems to be more and more what our culture wants from us, isn’t it? We should be more secure. We should be less vulnerable. The more we’re able to close up into ourselves, the better we are.

I see us doing that all the time at Gannon. Last week, when I was sitting on AJ’s Way as part of Box City, more people than I can remember navigated their way through the walkway via their iPods. It was as though they were ghosts, floating through the boxes as if they didn’t exist.

I find myself more frustrated by this day by day. And the reason why is seated around me. In the half hour I’ve been pecking away at this article, I’ve shared moments that I couldn’t have shared alone. I made eye contact with Amanda as Miami man asked Richmond man about his guitar, and if he had calluses on his hands. Miami man also glues his CDs together, making two-sided CDs in his player. Amanda went to Seton Hill and finds the transition to NYU difficult at times. Richmond wants to see his favorite band, Disco Biscuits, in Philadelphia but doesn’t have a car. It broke down in Maryland, and now he’s on the train.

I only have fifty minutes with these people, but I shared something with them. I lived life together with them and feel I’ve made 3 new friends, even if they are only single-serving friends.

You, my friends, have four years here, and yet many of you find it more worth your time to engage with pieces of silicon and aluminum than even so much as comment regarding the weather to the people you are paying to live with.

Try, as we approach Christmas, to talk to someone new. Take out your earbuds. There’s a world that is waiting for your ears. One that is more satisfying and real than the latest Radiohead album, and one that will mean more to you that the status your Nano brings.

And I promise that your iPod will be there. What I can’t promise is whether the people you choose to pass by will be.


thoughtful next steps

Usually when I write these articles, they’re idealistic and theoretical. Very rarely do I talk about pragmatic issues. This is for a purpose. While I’ve done plenty of things in my life and am always willing to give you advice, your situation is different than mine. I don’t know where you’ve come from, what you’re doing, and where you’re going. We all have similar ideals, however, and all deal with similar theories – the idea of growing through college, the theory of proper partying. However, I’m going to depart from that this week.

As I write this, I’m on a train between Boston and Albany, after being at Harvard for their Urban Planning open house. First, for those of you who may accuse me of being pretentious, let me assuage your concerns by saying I wasn’t more impressed than I think I should have been at the very first college in America. It looked like buildings, students, and professors. People were in sweatpants, going to class. While I may have seen a little more Burberry and Prada, I think that’s just part of being on the East Coast.

This whole grad school selection thing is a pain, let me tell you. First, I have to go to four schools because it’s good to diversify your options. Then I have to take the nigh-$200 GRE which I might bomb and then feel like an idiot over, and then applications at $75 a pop when hey, I don’t even spend $75 on groceries on a regular basis. Which means I’m going to eat more rice because I want to go to a school for urban planning.

I still find it worthwhile though, because it’s helping me take reasonable and thoughtful steps about my future. Last week I talked about struggle, and this grad school selection on top of work on top of another master’s degree is a struggle. If I’m being consistent with my convictions, then I’m making some sort of worthwhile progress as a result of my struggles. I think this hard work sets me up to do something that I’m supposed to be doing later. While I can’t assume that I have any right to control the complete trajectory of my life, I also can’t assume that my trajectory is just going to aim itself.

So I went to Harvard, and I liked it. It’s my far reach school of the four, and I think if accepted I could actually thrive there. I don’t think I’ve wasted any money on the train ride (as an aside, if you have the option to take a train somewhere, do it. It’s worth every penny, and the country side at ground level at 80mph is much more gratifying that 35,000 ft at Mach 1), and certainly not in networking and understanding my process more.

I’ll get into more of the pragmatic information for you next week, but I want to leave you with something, especially for those of you in this same hunt I am: this is worth your time. The search means something, the work is worth something. These processes have a way of refining us and helping us make meaning of our aforementioned trajectories. Even if I don’t go to Harvard, I’ve provided my life a better set of coordinates. This trip may have been the difference between landing softly or violently. In my mind, a soft landing is worth a 13 hour train ride.