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

This is not a redesign.

I feel like cheap living room furniture when I wake this morning, more stuffing than structure, badly upholstered. The arm of a hurricane sauntered through two nights ago, blowing out tree branches like church windows in a twister. The leaves stain Durham’s streets with glassy color. Now blue skies and real autumn, the warm sun squint-bright and the air tasting like iced Perugina. It feels good on my upholstery.
In these weeks, I continue my daily commutes up and down campus, from the Nicholas School to Fuqua and back again. And back again. The walls here are unchanged, and yet I feel that the school is different now for me. Ever since I started to explore the possibility of starting my own company, I’ve felt the sensation of true belonging.
I have nothing negative to say about my joint degree experience, but the truth is that many times I’ve felt alone. One might expect that my community would be the other joint degree students – and they have been – but my pursuit of business within conservation here has been very singular. The professors and my classmates have been wonderful, but the challenges of their industries and interests are always different, and I knew they were often at a loss for words over the challenges I was facing. The duality of these two master’s programs in business and ecosystem conservation has existed within me only. Every so often, I felt a twinge of envy for the energy joint degree students for their connectedness - ideas flowing like fleet-footed creatures between them - while I stood on a nearby island, trying to invent my own vertebrates.
My movement into the outskirts of entrepreneurial Duke feels, I think, like my first year in BLAST. I’m like you, I say in wonderment. Finally, I’ve found that I’m like you. There is so much energy and strength here, so much delight in the endeavor. How would I be different if I’d found my “people” from the beginning?
I’m tired of being scattered. There is a beautiful Seurat painting in the National Gallery of London, “Bathers at Asnieres.” Only 24 when he created it, Seurat carefully slid orange brushstrokes beside teal and rose to make the sheen of lakewater, olive beside umber for bathers’ heads, lavender with black for the grass. You can see the early hints of a style that would make him famous with “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.” Each touch of color is alone, though from a distance the painting is perfectly composed.

I cannot be that. I cannot live in this pointed cousin of impressionism, where things become clear only from far away.
When I call up my dearest advisors, stressed and overwhelmed, they ask me, “Can’t you drop something?” I’ve always said No, I have responsibilities, I cannot leave these things behind. But now I see that those projects were just paint spots, supporting each other with no substance of their own. I would prefer Matisse, in the late years of his “second life”, boldly applying paper shapes to backdrops of solid, unexpected colors. I am still young, and I refuse to say that I wish I’d been a part of a strong community at Duke all along, I refuse to say that another path might have been better. I still am not sure this is the right one for me. But this is, again and again, the journey. Matisse, said in those later years of color and form, “I have needed all the time to reach the stage where I can say what I want to say.”

And so, I ask myself those questions: What do I want to say? When I get there, will I be able to say it?

This is not a redesign. This is not the annual dropping of leaves for a new dress of foliage in the springtime. This is not a reupholstering.
There’s this wave in the environmentally conscious design world called upcycling. Bike tires become wallets, and wine bottles become lamps. Cardboard boxes morph into desks and shower curtains, kites. Reimagining myself is that process – part artistic, part technical. I don’t have answers to the questions that might make me Matissian in 50 years. But I have this. And I have you.

Matisse "Snowflowers" 1951
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