By Sarah Dahl
“Most of your columns sound the same,” my dad told me as I typed at the airport last month.
“Don’t all columnists kind of sound the same?” I asked.
Yes and no, he said. The voice and moral sensibility are constant, but the experiences, the happenings, change.
I look over my old columns and wonder how much I’ve changed in the past 12 months. I smile and cringe at words and anecdotes. I didn’t know what I wanted when I started a-dahl-escence, aside from an outlet. I got that. And I got a kind of time-lapse diary, too: snapshots of myself at various stages.
So much of what I’ve covered is very similar: the insane strive for perfection, the accompanying feelings of inadequacy. I’ve written intensely about stress and exhaustion, about competition and comparison, about managing time and messing up.
I know I’ve changed, but I wonder how much of that change has been good and how much bad.
As a shy underclassman, I didn’t quite understand angst and how to express it; now my outward stress is palpable and deleterious. I’ve gained a good group of friends, but much of what we bond over is an “emo Bucky” mindset, i.e., reveling in our misery and insomnia, wearing black turtlenecks, listening to Drake, tweeting about our emotions instead of dealing with them. I feel inculcated with this lifestyle, which is as close to hipster-dom as BB&Ners get. I know this is just one of many ways to deal with stress and numbness at this school, and I don’t blame my pals. It still kind of sucks, though.
Looking back on this year, I shake my head at foibles (wearing the same black turtleneck three days in a row, listening exclusively to “6 Man” and “House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls” on Spotify, acquiring three parking tickets in September and October, spending too much money at Life Alive, going to bed at 12 a.m.) and anguish over larger failings (going to bed at 12 a.m. every single night, flunking a test, arguing with my parents, disagreeing with friends). I have a lot of regret and a lot of trouble finding things to be purely proud of when every accomplishment seems to have come at the cost of something else.
By the time you read this, I’ll have taken my last tests and turned in my final projects. I’ll be basically done. The easiest, and maybe best, philosophy, would be not to agonize over all that I should’ve done differently. A productive, helpful, and even comforting activity is to discard the current Chutes and Ladders game I’m playing and envisage my future.
That seems a little too happy-go-lucky, though. I don’t think moving on without glancing back is the best way to saunter forward. Thoughtfulness is healthy, cathartic. Reflecting without regret won’t turn me into a pillar of salt. (Besides, lol, I need to write this column about something).
I’ve been thinking a lot about Japanese pottery I saw with my 8th grade ceramics class at a gallery on Newbury Street. The vessels were purposely cracked and blemished, part of a tradition called “wabi-sabi,” which focuses on celebrating beauty in imperfection.
Though holding high standards is important to me—where would I be otherwise? —I’ve been trying to accept that success is subjective and incalculable. I’m learning how to see the past four years as meaningful, beautiful, and interesting, without having been perfect.
My bad hair days and uncoordinated outfits, my stress-induced spurts of yoga on the kitchen floor, my coffee heated up at 7 a.m. and left in the microwave on my way to school, the less funny things that I’m too embarrassed to write about—these flaws make me whole.
I imagine I’ll leave much of this craziness behind during Senior Spring Project. It will be nice to have time to sleep eight-plus hours a night, plan cute outfits, cook vegetarian food, and hang out with my cat, though I worry part of me might sort of miss the stress. I’ve come to embrace it, first through finding humor in it (like the time my dad came downstairs at 2 a.m. and found me on the sewing machine, “taking a break” from college apps) and now through recognizing that though I hate when I can’t be my best self, there’s not much else I can do.
I think a change of aesthetics will be good for me. And what better to exchange emo-bucky with than wabi-sabi.
A lot of what I worry about doesn’t really matter, but it still matters. I’ve spent four years of my life here, and the psychological processes I’ve undergone have shaped the way I view the world. But I’m ready to let go of the bad habits that have defined me. And if I can figure out how to antidifferentiate trig functions, code a hashing array, keep calm in a heated English debate, conjugate Arabic subjunctive, and write a play in French, I am certain that moving forward is feasible.