Switching Focus

I find life overwhelming. Sometimes I simply cannot believe that the world exists, that it holds war and pollution in pain, people that die too young and people who don’t bring themselves to care, alongside activism and nature and love, people that write poems and people who help each other for no reason other than because they want to. And I really can’t believe that within all this, the world contains me, too.

This sense of overexposure, as it were, is what keeps me up at night staring at the gradient of light spilling from my window across the cieling. It’s what sends me on long walks across campus, behind academic buildings, through the woods. It’s what fills my camera roll three times over in the span of a summer.

But most of the time, in order to operate in the world, I have to put some stimuli aside. I simply can’t take it all in all of the time. So, I filter. Prioritize.

We all do this. And while for a lot of people, this filtering produces a fairly neutral sense of the world on a day-to-day basis, a smooth baseline interrupted with individual conflicts and victories. For me, this filtering produces a negative view. I see the world and hold onto the bad news (personal and otherwise), the signs of future trouble, and cast aside the good news. Who am I to deserve happiness here when it means ignoring sadness somewhere else?

And of course, there’s a third group of people, the ones who filter the world and see it as a mostly good place. These are the people who are endlessly cheerful, whose troubles roll off their backs and leave them open to help others with theirs. And rather than think that they have a skewed view of the world, that they’re purposefully ignorant, or wrong, I’ve come to realize these are some of the strongest people I know. It takes extraordinary strength of will to be given the same set of terrible and wonderful things as everyone else, to be aware of it all, and find a way to filter it all so you still come out with an appreciation, even a love, for the world. And rather than leaving someone selfish and unconcerned with the struggle of others, having a positive outlook leaves one in the position to seek out ways to bring others up to the same level of positivity (either in mentality or actual circumstances), and to believe that they can succeed in doing so. My negativity, though perhaps more “realistic” in the sense that I constantly remind myself of the ways things can and are going wrong, often leaves me hopeless and convinced there’s no change to be done.

All this is to say is I deeply admire the people who share this world with me and still focus on the good they see. And I want to be more like them, for myself and others. So, as a start, I thought back on the semester that just ended and focused on the moments that stood out to me as the brightest, the happiest, the most hopeful. I’ve felt awful a lot of times this semester, but I’ve also felt wonderful, and it’s not shameful to recognize that. Focusing on the good things doesn’t have to exclude or ignore the bad–it can call attention to the discrepancy between the two, and motivate me to change things until seeing more good than bad isn’t an act of filtering, but a reflection of reality.

Anyway, here’s some of my favorite moments from this semester:

  • Sitting squeezed four in a row in the backseat of my friends car, listening to the music we’ve deemed our official soundtrack for the semester, while heading off on another trip to brunch, or dinner, or the grocery store.
  • Not taking notes during a Q&A session with the poet Ocean Vuong because I was too caught up in his quiet voice and unexpected replies to break away and grab my notebook.
  • Getting caught in a downpour on the drive home with my friends from a midnight trip to the store for ice cream and running, laughing and screaming, from the parking lot to the door of our building.
  • Sitting on a couch with a delicate strand of string lights wound in my hair, full from an expertly arranged plate of wine, fruit and cheese, and reading one of my stories to my friends.
  • Swirling my ring finger in a pot of red eye shadow before carefully brushing it over my friend’s eyelid to make her look like a beautiful, vengeful ghost on Halloween.
  • Standing at a podium in a dimmed corner of the library, holding a packet of my writing in my hands and realizing I made it halfway through my first public reading without screwing up.
  • Pressing play on my phone at the same time as my friends so we could listen to the same song through our headphones and coordinate a silent dance break in the middle of an academic building, in the middle of essay writing, in the middle of this overwhelming semester.

 

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