A few weeks ago, Kelly showed me a guide—Alex Vermeer's "8,760 Hours"—to assessing the past year, thinking about where I want to be in the future, and creating goals and timelines for how to get there. While that's more or less the formula for every goal-oriented program, I like this one in particular because it categorizes life into twelve parts (from money and finances to contribution and impact), and I find it easier and more manageable to address the states of specific parts of my life one-by-one instead of everything in my entire life at once. The categories also intuitively make sense to me, and align fairly well with how I would break down the different parts of my life myself (though of course it's possible to add/drop/alter categories if necessary). And I think knowing that I'm very intentionally putting myself in a place of potential discomfort next semester in order to recontextualize, plus entering senior year in the fall, makes me really want to be deliberate and open-minded about my growth in all areas this year.
Anyways, while trying to find the time to jump into "8,760 Hours," I thought I would reflect on my favorite moments of 2016. My approach to this (similar to Kelly's and my approach to creating lists of our favorite sights/sounds/smells/sensations) is to give myself about a week at the end of each year and see what memories come floating up. I find that if I sit down to brainstorm, I feel pressure to include memories with everyone who matters to me at all these different points during the year; and I hope that by letting things come up organically, I might gain a truer sense of what moments gave—and continue to give!—me any kind of joy. And then I like to think about why, even though most of them were just fun or an interaction/connection I needed at that time.
In no particular order:
- Eating breakfast on the broken bamboo bench every foggy morning in Bangladesh. There was a small pond that Bristee's grandfather dug himself behind us, and I always worried that if I leaned too far back the bench would topple us in. Now that I think about it, I have lots of positive memories sitting on this bench in general: Prince trying to teach me the Bengali alphabet, Rafa falling asleep on my lap, trying to ignore the burning of my tongue after Vhabi, Nana, and Shakil spent an afternoon making grapefruit mixed with green pepper for all of the kids (me included)...but I think eating breakfast here next to Bristee, with a plate of yellow rice and meat on each of our laps, with sun diffusely shining through mist in the tall trees overhead is my favorite.
- COMMUNITY ART IN BOTS!!! There was just something about being outside, covered in paint, and the chaos of trying to dodge students' questions about my love life while trying to use turpentine and dab paint out of the clothes of someone who was terrified their mother was going to be pissed. I think the messiness of art-making in general—particularly during large, team-based projects, like our mural—creates such a beautiful, uninhibited, light-hearted atmosphere that I'm really comfortable in. Maybe because I dislike being in a position of authority, and so being as confused and paint-y and overwhelmed as everyone else helped. But I think that also I really enjoy feeling needed and helpful, and I loved being able to answer questions and come to the rescue and clean up spills while people were able to create something together. I remember Laone coming by and commenting upon how happy I seemed out there, and I do believe Community Art was such an incredible experience for me that encouraged me to smile bigger and laugh more freely. (Also shoutout to Ruby asking if she could paint a heart on my shirt and then having red paint leak through and make it look like I had a bloody wound on my back for a week.)
- Studying with a fam late at night at Harvard. There were a bunch of these moments, like forcing Sun-Ui to work with my in Cabot dhall and then everyone else randomly showing up, or Roomies going straight from a meeting at CAMHS to a random basement room in Kirkland during reading period. I'm not sure what it is about this (solidarity? excuses to take breaks and chat?) that feels so warm and comforting, but it makes me think about the whole "languages of love" theory and maybe just that I really appreciate physical presence.
- VES 150's kidnapped doctor assignment. This was possibly the weirdest thing to ever happen to me in my entire life. The first real day of class (fiction filmmaking), we entered our classroom to find it pitch black with no chairs or table. And our professor ended up having us act out this "kidnapped doctor" scene, where one person plays a doctor who has been kidnapped, one person plays a robber who was been shot, and one person plays the friend of the robber who was shot who has to convince the kidnapped doctor to treat his robber friend with a butter knife. Besides these three actors, the rest of the class is the crew: three people on lights, two "veil-wranglers" whose job is to mess with the actors by swinging huge mesh sheets into their faces, one "fan-wrangler" whose job is to mess with the "veil-wranglers" by using the fan to mess up their veils, one "water-spritzer" who sprays everyone in the face with water, and one director who has the camera. And we would rotate through so everyone played every role twice. It was CRAZY, but so fun. As our professor explained the directions, I could feel myself getting so nervous about having to act in front of everyone and direct this class full of some friends and some strangers. (You can maybe guess that by the end of this class, we all knew each other pretty well.) But I left so energized. The professor had told us that last year's class started off a bit tentative, but by the end were yelling and swearing like sailors; and when the actor playing the shot robber kicked off our first take screaming, "HE FUCKING SHOT ME!!!" we all knew we could let go and just see what happened. And it definitely got weird—during the scene I directed, doctor Isaac cut shot robber Luke's stomach open and robber friend Branson threw the ropes that had once tied Isaac up into the air (pretending they were Luke's guts) and then collected them and stuffed them into Luke's shirt, before everyone realized it had actually been Branson who had been shot in a specific body part that Isaac was not willing to operate on (so he died). In his scene, director Kenny had all three of his actors be super calm and polite (a huge change from Ben screaming that a dingo bit off his leg and Mezu crying on the floor), and somehow throughout the take they realized they were all named Phil and the dialogue was deadpan and golden. I think I mostly just loved that 1) this was an actual class, 2) this was the weirdest yet most effective ice-breaker ever, 3) I was able to leave behind some uncertainty inhibitions (even though watching edits with me screaming on camera still makes me cringe), and 4) I laughed the entire time, and so appreciated the people in my class (and VES in general) and looked forward to the semester with them.
- White water rafting (which turned into swimming) on the Zambezi River. It was expensive af, so I had had some reservations before committing to it, but I alwaysssss love water activities—shoutout to five years of crew—and remembered having such a blast white water rafting while interning at JAX last summer. SO MUCH FUN. It was a bit of a slippery hike, probably about a mile, down the gorge in Zimbabwe to get to the Zambezi, which is the fourth longest river in Africa and flows into the Indian Ocean, with plenty of crocodiles. But I enjoy hiking and had my sneakers on, so that was fine, and then I'm pretty sure I just spent 90% of our time in the rapids laughing. The specific highlight in my head was when our guide Hippo asked if Jazil wanted to jump in and swim, but I thought he had asked if all of us wanted to swim, so Jazil jumped out, I jumped out (my foot actually got caught on the side of the boat so I kind of fell out), and then everyone else jumped out except for Hippo and another guide who helped paddle from the bow. I think I was holding Jazil's hand as we floated on our backs down the river when I looked over my shoulder and saw our boat pretty much entirely empty, and then realized I was peacefully floating in a no-man's land between Zimbabwe and Zambia and heading for the Indian Ocean. Which was really humbling for some reason, and also brought this huge wave of contentment and calm. And then getting back in the boat is such a hilarious interaction, too, because someone in the boat grabs you by your life vest and pretty much pulls you up out of the water and then onto them in the boat. When one of our guides pulled me up the first time I tried really hard to be normal, but when Harsh pulled me up after a second round of swimming I could NOT stop laughing, which I think freaked him out, and then couldn't get up from the bottom of the boat because my stomach hurt from laughing and my life vest made it hard to move.
- Laughing while trying to scramble up freaking HUGE sand dunes at sunset in the Namib desert. I mentally group struggling up the dunes with white water rafting because it felt like a similar type of giddiness and freedom. I have one saved Snapchat that actually reminded me of this while posting my 2016 photos on Facebook, but I guess all of us had just sledded down the dunes at once and were trying to make it back to the top. I had started out determined to beat Jack to the top, but by this point I just had to stop from laughing hysterically on all fours as I realized how STUPID all of us looked with our different climbing strategies. Jack was still pushing through ahead of me, Harsh had just collapsed, I could hear Fred's war whoops from fairly close behind me, and when looking down for a second I caught a glimpse of Jazil just sitting in the sand at the bottom of the dune. I was just so happy to be outside, in this huge expanse of desert, wearing Susan's (a Princeton in Africa Fellow) tshirt covered in paint from Community Art, feeling my heart race and warm grains of sand shifting beneath me as I moved, with the ocean beyond the dune to my right and the sun sinking overhead. It was mostly this physicality and attunement to everyone and everything that I think brought this moment to life.
- Nida backpedaling at our blockmates' party. This is the most random, stupid, inconsequential ten seconds ever but I laughed until I CRIED. This particular moment was within N22's master plan of attending three themed parties in one night, so we had figured out the perfect order of events and laid out all of our outfits: all-black (black holes for our blockmates' outer space party), denim and flannel (90s themed Pfoho House party, which is kind of empty every year but Sarah and I go for the music), and boxers and dress shirts (Cabot Skype Interview party). I also think this was the first time all four of us had gone out together since #LaBBBBBorDay (ask in person) weekend, so it was amazing. But anyways, while at the space party, Nida had just picked up her drink when all of a sudden her feet just got caught in each other (??) and she started to fall, but somehow kept stepping backwards RIGHT before she was about to lose her balance and go down, and so she ended up backpedaling LITERALLY HALF THE LENGTH OF THE PARTY ROOM with everyone somehow creating a path for her before reaching a wall at the end of the room and sliding fairly gracefully down it. And she didn't spill ONE DROP of her drink. I have never seen anything like it. It was like watching a cartoon in slow-motion, and after spending the rest of space party crying at this bizarre image of Nida with panic in her face and horribly uncoordinated feet, I think the most miraculous moment of my year.
- Everything about N22 and time with Sarah, Nida, and Phoebe. From discovering love nests (like 10ft in diameter bean bags someone sewed together) in Cabot basement to boozy brunches, watching RuPaul with Phoebe on a bad day, Nida secretly buying me cheesy bread when I took a shower, Sarah straight up body-checking me at HY to avoid negative situations, 3:11am nights (mornings?) studying in the SOCH, everyone crying on my bed as election results came in on November 8th, everyone putting up with all the times I forget tickets to get into things, every party and being each other's #1 dates formal, sharing clothes/earrings/hair supplies, our SnapChat wall...so many little moments that create such a beautiful thing.
- Brushing my teeth and washing my face with Miriam every morning at the outside pump in Bangladesh—a simple and sweet routine that I loved and miss. Miriam was one of Bristee's cousins but lived next door, unlike Rafa and Maia and Aakash and some of the others who were all staying with us in her grandmother's house for the wedding. She was maybe seven years old and pretty shy, so we didn't play around the same way I learned to with the other cousins. But my first morning in the village, I came outside with my toothbrush and face wash and saw Miriam about to brush her teeth. And Miriam, the second she saw me approach, ran around the back of the pump and started pumping water for me! I felt SO BAD, and tried so hard to gesture that she should continue brushing her teeth and didn't need to pump for me, but was also aware of the water gushing out, and Miriam was having none of it. So I brushed my teeth and washed my face as quickly as I could, switched places with Miriam, and then pumped for her as she brushed her teeth and washed her face with some of my face wash. And every day after that, even though I definitely did not wake up at a regular time, Miriam and I always met at the pump as aunties prepared food inside and cows moo'd and the world woke up for a new day. This reminded me a bit of my relationship with my grandfather, who does not speak English, since the types of affection and interactions Miriam and I were able to show and have—like Miriam slipping her hand into mine and skipping with me down the road if she saw me coming, or playing with my hair, or pumping water to help out—are similar to ways in which my grandfather and I express care, ways that have to transcend language. And I found a lot of comfort both in having a daily ritual to ground my time away from my normal rituals at home and in that familiar, quiet way of expressing care through touch or thoughtfulness.
- Thursday nights at the Queen's Head. (Noticing now that this seems lame after writing about travel adventures, but aghh still such happy memories here.) I had Fridays off this semester, and my absolute favorite way to start the weekend was when friends were performing at the Queen's Head on Thursday evenings. Free mozz sticks, a certain type of wine that tasted like beer, live music (often with SOUL you could FEEL), space to dance if you wanted but also booths to chat in, and such chill vibes. I usually went with Elodie or Kelly, but could always enter knowing there would be good-artsy-cool people there and a laid back social environment—somewhere between a rager and a dorm kickback—that I think I often miss at Harvard. Plus always love supporting friends/student artists and getting to hear what people are working on!
- Rose/bud/thorn with my DG family. I go back and forth on my feelings about "enforced" intimacy, such as in games that require you to answer personal questions about yourself or social structures that assume trust and vulnerability. But this particular experience was so great, and exactly what I needed at the time. It was on a Tuesday evening in December during finals period, which I remember because Sarah, Nida, and Phoebe had all left that day and I was worried about being lonely and anxious in an empty room, especially since me leaving the next day meant leaving Harvard for 9 months. And I think it gave me a really positive opportunity to be honest and reflective in a group setting, which I'm usually much less comfortable with than one-on-one (besides Room things). I appreciated hearing everyone else's highs and lows as a way of understanding their values and thought processes and how their semesters went; and I liked that we created an environment in which we could all contemplate and share half-baked thoughts and ideas out loud. I'm thankful I got the chance to feel close to everyone before saying goodbye until next fall, and I think these few hours in particular helped make packing up my room the next day a little easier.
- Not-In-Egypt Weekend (also Real-Party-In-the-Girls-Annex night). While in Bots, some of the interns took off for a weekend in Egypt, which some of us just couldn't do. And there begun Not-In-Egypt Weekend. I think it was our second-to-last weekend at MaP, right after two consecutive weekends of flying to the Okavango Delta and Kasane and right before heading to Cape Town. And it ended up being so lovely, full of wonderful, low-key moments with people. From our last meal at Nando's with Heba and Fred, to talking about absolutely everything over lunch with Laone, to a scary movie night with all the students, to eating cake and editing photos with Heba and Fred again, I think that smaller group down time to strengthen relationships and begin mentally preparing for goodbyes was so helpful. And Not-In-Egypt Weekend included quite possibly my favorite night out of the summer with Heba, Fred, Jack, Donald, Zoe, and five or six other interns. We started out at a bar in Masa Center, checked out the Absolut roof lounge, and ended up at Johnny Jalapenos at Riverwalk. I remember a lady hitting on Fred and giving him her drink, and then me drinking it; and sitting next to Do-náld who was dancing in his seat to the radio in Tuto's car; and then our whole group dancing (I think the only time I really danced this summer) in Jalapenos. I was happy to meet new people, and see everyone else having fun on a night out, and to be able to let loose because I was with people I trusted to take care of each other. (Similar to Not-In-Egypt Weekend was Real-Party-In-the-Girls-Annex night, the one night when Heba and I stayed behind while the others went to a casino or something. It turned out to be a stressful night for the interns, which sucks; but Real-Party-In-the-Girls Annex Night involved Heba and I first wanting to send an ironic Snapchat about how the real party was in the girls' annex, and then evolved into us spending a ridiculous hour choreographing a complex ten-second dance routine to an EDM song.)
- Spending 24 hours straight with only one person. This happened completely randomly during reading period, but Laura and I were scheduled to staff the Room together, and then ended up talking all night (which in itself is always a favorite moment) and coming up with a plan for the next day to wake up at the same time, grab breakfast in Annenberg, and then work in Darwin's. And it was comfortable and easy and productive, and such a little bubble of our typically very separate worlds aligning. I find that it's so rare to spend long stretches of time with people at Harvard just because everyone is always busy and has to go, so it felt special to be so in sync with someone for 24 hours. I also think it's rare for me to ever want to spend such an extended amount of time with anyone, just because I usually anticipate being socially drained after a while or wanting to be alone or maybe getting bored and wanting to talk to someone else, but it was nice spending the time, realizing how natural it was, and feeling content throughout. Also, that evening, I suuper enjoyed volunteering at the Carroll Center with some folks and that maybe also contributed to how positively I remember this day.
- New Years Eve and a surprise birthday party in Bangladesh. I think I've wrote about this before (maybe?) so I'll keep it short, but 2016 started off with such a beautiful highlight for me. One of Nanna's wedding ceremonies was on New Year's Day, my birthday, so I didn't expect any attention to be paid to me at all; and we were in a small village, so I didn't know what to expect for the turn of the new year, besides not expecting the fireworks and parade I'm used to in Boston. However, on New Year's Eve, Bristee and I accompanied Aakash, Prince, Shamim, and a few of the other guy cousins to a little patch of cleared earth by the trees next to the house. Aakash lit a small fire and we all sat around it, playing a game. Someone would spin a bottle, and if it landed on you, you had to sing, dance, or tell a joke—I remember being a bit surprised but also appreciative of such a clean, simple, light-hearted game. So Prince told a joke, Bristee and I sang High School Musical together, and then it was midnight! We could hear some neighbors setting off their own firecrackers across a stretch of bamboo forest, everyone took turns shaking hands and saying "Happy New Year," and Aakash, as the oldest, fed everyone a bite of a super sweet traditional dessert. Then we went inside and went to sleep, and it was such a pleasant way to mark the end and beginning of the years. The next day, after the wedding ceremony, I showered (I remember the water was FREEZING because it was evening by then) and was brushing my hair when Rafa ran into the room. She started pulling on my hand and smiling up at me, which was adorable, and Shamim explained that she had used leftover flowers from the wedding to decorate one of the rooms in the house, and wanted me to come see. So of course I got up, and didn't think anything of why Shamim was blindfolding me and gently guiding me through the house by my shoulders, and then we got to the room and he removed the blindfold and...!!! Everyone was there! Soto Kala was sitting on the bed next to a cake, which we had picked up on our way home (funny story is that it actually sat in my lap for the entire car ride, but came in a big box that someone told me not to open so I didn't even know), and all the cousins sang and threw flower petals at me, and Rafa and Maia had taped flowers on the walls, and the aunts and uncles smiled and nodded and ate cake. Hands down my favorite birthday I've ever had, and the perfect way to transition from a teenager to a 20-year-old.
- Ice skating date event. I love the feeling of gliding over ice, but ALWAYS start off feeling hesitant and a littleeee worried about falling. And I was nervous because this time I had to not fall in front of my date. But despite all the anxiety before the fact, it ended up being one of the most exhilarating moments of spring semester (noticing now how few of these 2016 highlights are from spring semester, though I think overall it was my best semester at Harvard so far)! My person was suuper uninhibited and not at all afraid to fall—and he definitely fell from going wayyy too fast several times. Seeing him zoom around the rink made me laugh and also very determined to keep up; and while ice skating was also romantic and yadda yadda, I think my favorite moment was skating faster (while dying laughing, being pulled along) than I had ever tried to before. And I liked being with someone who was confident enough in both himself—to go as fast as he could and look silly falling—and in me—teasing me until I could finally skate backwards or raced him—to bring out that side of me that night.
- Michelle's Art Adventure in Cape Town. After spending the past eight or so weeks with the other interns, I was so excited in Cape Town to plan one day for myself of visiting the South African National Gallery, some other art galleries, and generally doing whatever I wanted to do. Well, it turned into kind of a shit show because it was a national holiday (who knew?) so everything was closed, but I did okay and got inventive. I ended up visiting Bo-Kaap, wandering through an outdoor market, and talking my way into a few galleries when all of a sudden it started to rain. And that's when I spotted it. I had seen this place on Yelp or TripAdvisor or something, and wanted to go but didn't think I would make it to that area. And it ended up completely rescuing my day. The Book Lounge is a cozy bookstore with tons of couches upstairs and a little cafe with more seating downstairs. I found myself some books on South African art, bought a latte and a snack, and sat in an armchair perusing the work of one photographer who traveled all over southern Africa while it poured outside. I would have loved this place no matter when or where I found it, but I think the fact that it was the first time I was completely alone (and not just alone in my room) made it so special at that time. And rain always helps make things more poignant. But something about the combination of all these things—having found somewhere to go just before the skies opened, the coziness and warmth of the space, with the couches and smell of coffee, that it just so happened to have photography books, that I finally felt independent in a new place, and that the rain started when I entered and stopped right as I left—made it perfect.
- Other Cape Town moments. Those six days were such an ideal vacation, after a lot of stress and strife earlier that summer. And we really fit it all in, from shark cage diving to wine tastings and eating everywhere. Moments that particularly stand out are all of us going insane at the Neighborgood's food market our first morning there and buying so many foods we didn't have in Gabs, hiking Lion's Head, reading while eating breakfast at our ridiculous Airbnb overlooking the ocean and city, and our last night there, which was magical for me. Looking back now, I think Cape Town marked the last hurrah of the summer, and a positive end to the journey we had all made together, through good times and bad.
- Vision and Justice. Possibly the most incredible course I have ever taken. I half wish I had written posts about the things we learned throughout the semester; but I half doubt my credibility and worry about being pretentious, posting intellectual things I just learned but the complexities and nuances of which I don't fully understand. So I'll leave the course content itself as "lifechanging," and instead focus on working for hours on Tuesday afternoons with Elodie in Barker Cafe, making everyone listen to me talk about my final paper, and seeing things so much more critically and with a depth to my visual literacy that I had never known was possible. Reminds me how much farther I can go, too, which is always exciting.
- My message thread with Bonolo. I forget who messaged first and how it started, but I've been trading super long messages with Bonolo, one of my closest student-friends (now definitely a friend) from the summer, for three-ish months now. I appreciate that we're able to stay friends and continue getting to know each other and each other's lives even from afar, and I'm especially in awe and taken aback by her wisdom (especially when giving me life advice) and ways of thinking about the world. We've talked about our relationships with art and family and guys and our shortcomings and hopes for the future and have very different personalities and approaches to life, but are both open-minded and willing to share enough that we have awesome conversations. It just feels like a strong, lasting friendship, and I'm so glad to have confidence in it about half a year after leaving Botswana. This maybe feels particularly important in light of me leaving all my friends (sad) next semester to study abroad; so in addition to my love and appreciation for Bonolo, she's helping me realize I can maintain meaningful friendships even while halfway across the world.
And there we have it! Definitely did not realize I would end up writing that much, but I guess that just confirms how vivid these highlights of 2016 remain for me. It's also interesting to me how blogging helps give me a reason and purpose for writing, but I definitely don't picture anyone really ever reading these thoughts. Anyways, I let myself write and avoided going back and editing so I don't remove or alter any parts of these that mean something to me because I have an hypothetical audience in mind, and hopefully it makes sense if any real audience (who are you??) is reading this now.
Happy New Year to all!