Jennifer A. Chin (cswallow) wrote,
Jennifer A. Chin

Garbage In, Garbage Out

I've been too quiet again, the days keeling over slowly like plants drowning. They've been full, so rich with the movement of life carrying on that I barely know how to contain them here. And with graduation at the end of this year, I've become paralyzed by the possibilities of what comes next.

I curse my own inability to blend the boundaries of choice. Do I dance? Pursue conservation? Or try to work in a leadership and mentorship capacity? Even my internal clock thinks I am in too many places. I sleep at 10 pm, and after a phone call wakes me at 12:30, my body refuses sleep. Or I fall asleep at my desk at 4pm. Later unconsciousness eludes me until 3 in the morning. On one day, I'll wake early enough to see the rosy glow of sunrise, and on the next, I'll sleep straight through the minute-long chirping of my alarm.

Homecoming - days upon days of seeing classmates for the first time all over again - has been sweet and gentle, like fresh-spun cotton candy. I can't remember the last time I got so many hugs. How is it that even after a summer of dancing, I feel perpetually starved for physical connection? Briefly I think of how easily women in China link arms with each other. Moms and daughters holding hands as they walk down the street. People brushed up (or crushed) together in the density of the subway or the bus. You become accustomed to the touch of skin. I've never been able to walk easily arm in arm with someone else. Self-consciousness overwhelms me, my feet move out of sync. I feel like I'm trying to play violin all over again - faking the ease that life-long musicians exude, when in fact I am stiff-armed and rhythmless. The effortless enthusiasm of these welcome-back hugs is like the blossom of a lily, the flip of a trout in a still morning, perfectly natural.

Reflection time is elusive. There are events to plan, projects to commence, and people to meet. I love my Environmental Law class in the way I loved my core Fuqua classes last year. It is a new lens for the world, another ascent to the same peak. In theory, I am blending the Fuqua and Nicholas world perfectly - courses at the Nicholas School and my MP there, COLE and AWIB at Fuqua, and mentees in both places. I am better this year at reaching out to other people, and I fight to keep my tendencies toward solitude at bay.

The flaws of yesteryear, however, bother me like poorly-placed hairpins, jabbing me at unexpected moments. I speak with my advisor on Tuesday about wanting to work in New York, "to be closer to dancing," and he says, "I didn't know you danced." I stare at him, jaw dropping to my collarbone. I've been meeting weekly with this man for two years and he didn't know that I am a ballroom dancer? I've been striving to be this authentic "leader of consequence" and I am not even giving my full self to the people who I rely on for advice.

Jim Salzman, my Environmental Law professor uses the phrase "garbage in, garbage out," to caution us about the perils of the process of creating policy. Starting with flawed data leads to useless, or dangerous, policy. Getting or giving advice is no different. If I don't know anything, how can I expect to give good advice? If I haven't said enough, how can I expect to get good advice? If I expect to solve one problem at a time, to satisfy my ambitions in dance and conservation and leadership independently from one another, and do not allow them to speak to each other, then I ought to also expect that my solutions will arrive in pieces.

In truth, despite my uncertainty over the future, every moment of the past week has sparkled. What greater joy than those of this first week back in Durham? Rocking downhill along Cameron Blvd on my bicycle, last year's car-fear erased by my new Beijing-traffic-standard; conversing with my Chinese classmates in my newly acquired Mandarin skills, watching the delight on their faces (and sudden concern that I might not be understanding them anymore); listening to the eager, self-conscious answers of freshman in the introductory environmental science and policy class that I will TA this term; my revelry in the blueness of a sky that I can see and the cleanliness of an air that I breathe without fear.

Living need not be difficult. The world is too big, our time too short, for such concerns.

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