Seven Months into College

I set my Google chrome window to its maximum size when I engage in YouTube escapism, because that way the clock widget is hidden and I successfully avoid the guilt of watching my study time melt away. Until it’s too late, that is. Does that make sense? I hope it does.

 

My friends and I laugh derisively at our August, 2015 selves as we remember how regularly we updated each other on all stuff we would do once we shipped out of Kenya and got to College(each of us trying to outdo the other, of course). Manze, we thought we were superheroes who could handle triple majors and double-digit minors. Not to say we are not intelligent, it’s just that higher education has its (very effective) way of humbling you.

 

In seven months I have learnt more about myself than I have in the last five years. For example, that I can get really bad at coping with high stress environments, and often opt to sleep my troubles away(it never works by the way, since I always wake up bleary-eyed, with the same amount of work to do and half the time). I learnt that I get easily discouraged by failure, especially academic failure, and that thinking about one bad thing that is happening in my life leads to a chain reaction of self blame and then, stress sleeping.

If I don’t make a timetable for myself, I will waste my time spectacularly. My ability to travel forward in time by channeling the  power of denial is awe-inspiring.

When I arrange the clothes in my wardrobe, make my bed do my laundry and get my unread email inbox count down to 1000, I feel the most peaceful joy. I can get through a moderately long conversation about Game of Thrones and Scandal and insert-popular-series by relying on the many random YouTube short episode clips and trailers I find during my online adventures. My mind can get so thoroughly content with its own creative renditions of situations that will never happen, that I forget to live outside my thoughts. Daydreaming is a big comfort zone.

 

These past few months I realized that I care more about people’s opinions than I thought I did. I crave being alone, but I am afraid of loneliness. I fear it may make me come off as ‘weak’. I’m afraid of coming off to anyone as weak, and afraid of coming off as too sure of myself. I make bad decisions with full knowledge of their potential to screw me over, and proceed to shift blame and feel sorry for myself when they do. I am a walking contradiction.

 

Thinking about your future is a scary process. These past few months, those thoughts have been my most exciting and dreaded pastime.  Thinking about the world, and those who lead it also can be depressing. Realizing how small I am in the grand scheme of things is scary. The responsibility towards my community and towards the society is a sobering weight.

 

I find humor in the blandest and most unlikely of situations, and often stare(subtly I hope) at people, trying to guess their life stories. I vividly remember things I see on Facebook, and if you are reading this, I probably remember specific details of that road trip you posted about four months ago, or that semi-philosophical post you made about how your  first week of school fundamentally changed you. I Facebook-stalk shamelessly. Shamelessly. I have stalked you.

 

I really want to change the world. Stanford’s vibrant academic and entrepreneurial atmosphere inspires me. Its students and faculty motivate me to become a better person. Learning new things, especially how to code and the art of problem solving, has brought out the final-form nerd in me.  I am excited by the potential that technology has to better lives, and wonder if I’ll live to see the age of AI. Thoughts of my mortality keep me grounded, and thoughts of other’s mortality, especially me being thirteen thousand kilometers away from home, remind me to reply to Whatsapp messages and skype calls.

 

Coming to College has made me realize I’ll have to work harder than I ever have to get the kind of opportunities I want, and that discipline is an inescapable part of life. I have also had to face the fact that I really am a morning person, despite being in denial of the fact my whole life.

 

I have been going to the gym for the past two weeks(so naturally I feel the need to give this wise analogy). Each time I get on that elliptical, I spend the first ten minutes with my chest on fire, willing myself not to reduce the gradient, and not to pedal slower. I tell myself I’ll rest when I’m halfway through, but once I get to that stage, the disgusting amount of sweat I have shed is enough to motivate me to finish the whole round. And when I get off, boy oh boy do I feel good. But I know I have to do it all over again the next day. And the day after that. And that my soft little(big) tummy won’t morph into rock solid abs on my walk back to the dorm(still hoping though). I will probably have 2 servings of ice cream at the dining hall that will set me back a few days. However, that doesn’t stop me from taking pleasure in the exercise and its aftermath. And such is life. It’s all in the journey.

 

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MY ON AND OFF RELATIONSHIP WITH VANITY

If I had a facebook relationship status with Vanity, it would read, “It’s complicated.”

No one likes to admit to being vain. I know I don’t. Vanity is shallowness, and shallowness is lack of character, lack of soulfulness. It is a despised form of narcissism, a gauge of bad personality. Vain people are constantly fretting about their skin, hair, clothing, shoes, accessories, weight, make-up and all other things shallow. They lack maturity and the stoic form of self-dismissal that deep, mysterious folk possess; you know, that uncanny ability to not care about frivolous things to do with oneself and always look at the bigger picture. It is a trait I admire almost as much as loyalty and courage.

The typical example of a vain person would be a Hollywood reality TV star whose more-or-less ordinary life is tracked down in stalker-fashion by a camera crew. We lounge on our sofas and watch as the beautiful lady’s life is examined through a camera lens, and click disapprovingly, remarking that there are more important things to be covered by the media, such as climate change and civil unrest, and why would someone have cameras follow them around every single day, that’s unbelievably vain, can you hear the shallow conversations they are having, all about diets and fashion, I can’t believe they make millions out of this show… Of course, we don’t explain why exactly we keep tuning onto the program.

So, in reference to above title, yes, I am vain. In fact, I get so vain sometimes that, as I’m walking on the street and I recall my moments of vanity, I stand still and recoil in horror and embarrassment, because I can’t believe I could consciously act so pathetically. The moments come rather sporadically. Take, for example, the time I posted my first edited photo on facebook. It was a rather nice-looking photo, made doubly pretty by the power of the editing app on my previous phone (I really miss that phone’s editing app), so I saw it fit to make it my profile picture. The minute it got on my facebook wall, I felt inexplicably nervous, as if I were awaiting exam results. I went to wash dishes and play guitar, and when I came back to check my phone, I had 30 likes. 30! In 20 minutes! I couldn’t help feel a sort of sheepish glee at this ‘accomplishment’. For the rest of the night (until I slept) and most of the following day, I kept on checking and re-checking my Facebook notifications for new likes.  It was sad, I tell you. I quite literally became obsessed with that little red pop-up box. By the next evening, my super photo had amassed 60 likes. And I felt like I’d won the lottery. I was on an all-time high; I was on an internet-induced cloud nine. And all this because of a photo. One lousy, facebook photo. It took a reduction in rate of new likes the next day and my friend’s 100-likes-in-an-hour (how is that even possible) new profile picture for me to jolt back to reality and realize I was being foolish and superficial.woman-taking-selfie-herself

Or the time we went for dinner, and I spent one and a half hours bathing and picking out my outfit, then another 20 minutes prettifying myself. We got to the restaurant late, and the food didn’t even taste that good, because I was too busy fretting about my hair(which I had not repaired in a while and roughly resembled a dead mongoose perched on my head) and my dress, which fit way too tightly around the waist meaning I had gained weight and now I was a fat fat girl and my skin which decided to sprout a ripe pimple right in the middle of my forehead to add onto my sunburn and my toenails which were just plain ugly, a problem exacerbated by the fact that I wore open shoes and had not applied polish… I’m not even exaggerating here; I made my mum take about 20 pictures of me and then scooted over to closely examine them and determine whether I was unbearably foul-looking or mildly unsightly, maybe even quirky, which can be taken as a positive.  Needless to say, Mum was mildly worried about my sanity. I look back at those photos and I wonder if I was high throughout the dinner, because my appearance was nowhere near as ghoulish as I was convinced it was. I basically wasted a perfectly good evening ‘cause of sheer vanity.

Vanity feels good most times, though. When I get a new set of braids-the neat, thick, long and shiny ones, made (painfully) in Kenyatta market- shinny loop earrings, a smashing dress and cute shoes, I can literally spend the whole morning in the room taking selfies for no one in particular, and swagger outside, feeling extremely hot for myself; I float on the ground, feeling of rather high importance and ranking in the world and glancing at passers-by with a smug look that shouts Mmmmh, ya don’t have to say it, I already know.

VAIN

That is, until I see someone who looks a hell of a lot better than me. Then I get mildly irritated, and I realize the irritation is jealousy, and that vanity can make me happy momentarily, but will never fully satisfy, because it wants more; more attention, more perfection, more admiration, more stares. It wants to be the most everything in the room. And I can never have it all. No one can. (An argument could be made for some notable exceptions). Vanity is a drug, a parasite. It is reasonably tolerable in small amounts, but if not controlled, it can take over one’s system and render him/her a slave to its shallow demands. Not to mention that it is painfully embarrassing to remember.

Don’t be alarmed, I’m not proposing we all dress up in sack cloths from now on and wage war on Reality TV Shows and Fashion Lines. As I said, vanity is an effective trigger of happy hormones (endorphins, for the fancy folk). Everyone appreciates looking good, and having his/her appearance admired. We need approval to live happy lives- not too much such that we become dependent on it, but enough to feel wanted. Vanity is not all evil.  After all, everyone harbors a bit of it. We all have that soft spot for social media popularity, fashion, looks, luxury and swag (Microsoft word dictionary says that the synonym for swag is ‘curtain’). All I’m saying is, let’s not let it take over our lives. Don’t be caught up by the number of likes you get on your Instagram or Facebook, or the number of retweets and followers you get on Twitter, because life is more than that. Get in touch with your deep side. Be self-dismissive sometimes. It pays to see the world through lens that are not pre-occupied with their owner.