Finding Your First-Year Corner

I just came back from watching Jupiter trace its path across the night sky. Tonight was one of those rare nights in Claremont when the stars actually seem to twinkle. Or it might just have been my overexcited eyelashes twitching. Either way, I’m used to a rather dull gleam of starlight through the smog, so a night when the stars shine crisply and Orion looks like he’s about to pierce me with his arrow is a special one. Especially so close to Valentine’s Day.

To honor a night like tonight, two friends and I carried telescopes over to Marston Quad to observe the heavens. I say “we” in the loosest sense—they did most of the carrying, because they were actually there to do their astronomy homework. Still, we had a wonderful time, trading glances of the planet and sexual innuendos about setting up the “equipment” right. It was a perfect college evening. By the end of it, we had Jupiter in our sights as a brilliant speck trailed by its moons, four pinpricks of light towed in its wake.

This, my dears, is what I love about college. I love that I can be sitting in my room, desperately trying to think of something to write about for my weekly column, when along comes a friend ready to go stargazing. I’d already whiled away my evening with some serious procrastination in the form of Frisbee practice, the Zimbardo lecture, and saving the world one Nourish International fundraising e-mail at a time, but just when I settle down to actually get work done, along comes another magical opportunity to experience the world rather than just write about it.

The trick is taking those opportunities. Putting down the linear homework to fountain a kid on your hall just ’cause he needs it. Watching the Grammys in the lounge rather than cleaning the endless mess that is your room. Finishing a stimulating conversation at the dinner table about how the word “stimulation” really can’t be used without a sexual undertone rather than rushing off to finish your chemistry lab.

There are definitely plenty of times when you just need to sit down and pound it out. But there comes many a time when we sacrifice attending an inspiring talk or doing cartwheels with friends because we get lost in checking items off a checklist. This is sad, because in the end, we miss out on what could have been a really rewarding, stimulating, or just plain fun experience (see what I mean?).

I’ve recently found myself mapping out my days ahead of time: two classes in the morning, maybe a 20-minute nap, then lunch, more classes, practice, homework, club meeting, more homework, and finally bed. But living life according to a plan doesn’t feel much like life at all. You lose the wonderful randomness of it, the inspiration that used to wait for you around the corner, but you’re stuck to the straight and narrow path.

Take the corner before inspiration stops waiting. Live your life a little more haphazardly. Recently, I joined a hip-hop class on an absurd whim, and now Monday and Thursday evenings are what I look forward to all week. I might never be Beyoncé, but I don’t think Snooki would be too disdainful if she bumped into me at a club.

A few weeks ago at dinner, I got caught in a conversation with two girls I barely knew while getting up to replace a fallen fork. Next thing I knew, I found myself inviting them to join my friend and me for dinner. Two hours later, a dining hall worker began rather vigorously washing the table next to us a second time. Now the four of us get dinner every Thursday night. I never would have met those girls if we hadn’t broken through the ease of remaining within hall groups. It’s comfortable to settle into complacency, but shattering through it can introduce you to the people you always hoped to meet, convince you to attempt the things you always wanted to try, urge you to venture to the places you always wanted to explore.

First semester, you were born into the world and slowly collected the feathers you needed to make your nest comfortable. Now it’s time to fall out of it. High school was for finding your alcove and cushioning yourself into it, but college is the chance to finally jump off that cliff. It’s time to audition for a play or sign up to be part of a psych study. For one thing, it worked out so well for Zac Efron, and for another, those studies pay well! Even if you discover that you’re going to be emotionally traumatized for life from shocking all those people in the psych study or don’t get into the play (or get cordially invited to leave one due to missing a rehearsal to go skiing), you’ll still have learned something. Namely, directors like people to come to all their rehearsals—even if you only have nine speaking lines.

At the end of the day, launching yourself off the precipice is exhilarating. Sure, you might see enough of the world in those first couple of seconds to realize you’re happy exactly as you are. If not, you will probably find yourself circling around the trunk of the tree for a while, unsure of where to go from there. But the flight itself will be spinetingling. And the more you let the air ruffle your feathers, the more you let the ground come sweeping up at you, the more your world will be pleasantly blown apart at the seams.

Because this column has a clichéd message—try new things!—I think I’m entitled to end it in a fairly cheesy way. When I was in middle school, our music teacher, a rather voluptuous older woman with a questionable taste in floral dresses, made us sing “Corner of the Sky” at the beginning of each choral practice.

This song is from the musical Pippin and sample lyrics include: “Cats fit on the windowsill / Children fit in the snow / Why do I feel I don’t fit in anywhere I go?” Angst to the extreme, yet, strangely enough, I remember feeling particularly touched by it, probably because 1) I was in middle school, and 2) there was this moment in which 60 eighth-graders would belt out with the force of 60 flies hitting 60 windshields, “I’ve got to be where my spirit can run free / Got to find my corner of the sky!” A bit prepubescent for sure, but there’s a profound truth to it, and we are nothing in college if not profound. So go out there and find your corner of the sky. In fact, screw Pippin. Knock that telescope over and refuse to settle for a narrow field of vision when all of the heavens await you.

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