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Photo courtesy of Jalen ’21

During a recent in-class essay over Zoom, I vividly remember a moment in which I realized my camera was off, my audio was muted and none of my family was home. With these factors in mind, I looked down at my freshly typed thesis and let out a scream. A loud scream. It reached a volume at which I thought it prudent to rehearse what I’d say in case my neighbors came to check on me. It was also pure catharsis, with a pinch of pleasant sneakiness; a year ago, I would not get away with screaming in the middle of class. The act had the same sort of satisfaction as sneaking a younger cousin candy. It also felt profoundly regressive.

Smack in the middle of my six years at Marlborough, I started doing weird little things at school to get myself through the day. I was three years in with three more to go, and the thought of doing anything for that long made me want to sling a brick through a car window. I was also super mad that I had to take math. This frazzled energy had to be directed somewhere, and thus I started adopting an assortment of odd and unnecessary little habits. They usually took the form of carrying some tchotchke in my pocket to futz with or creating a mass of tiny paper fortune tellers throughout the school day. It was a harmless rebellion—little acts I could never get in trouble for—and I loved it. The most extreme example I can think of was the time I took nail polish to school and tried to paint my nails under my desk slowly throughout the span of class. There is simply no need to do anything like that ever, and yet, in that moment, I thought: If I don’t make my nails mauve right now I simply will die. My desk neighbors smelled the lacquer. It was dumb. I mostly grew out of doing such things by mid-junior year, and I’m a senior now. I’m in more control of my life’s direction; I’m taking the classes I’ve always wanted to take, and I’m considerably less angsty. Because of these changes, I wouldn’t have thought I’d need to channel any energy into doing silly things just to get by. Yet here I am, obsessively poking at slime while taking notes in class, and periodically shrieking to myself with my audio muted. I can’t just sit and do work anymore; there has to be a fun little thing attached to the whole operation, or I will fall apart. I’d wondered for a while if my work ethic had just gone down the toilet this year, and if I’d gone backwards in my progress towards being a productive person.

This bothered me for a while, until I realized that I could blame this behavior on the greater world! But in all seriousness, the current state of affairs has me convinced that human progress is not guaranteed to be a linear, upward climb. Between living through The Plague 2: Electric Boogaloo and whatever the president will be doing by the time this article is out, I feel like the notion that I myself can move backwards or forwards in my individual growth is kind of archaic. Nothing is merely BAD or GOOD. Perhaps I’m just adapting. Maybe I am better off thinking of myself as a little worm, simply eating through all the dirt that life has put in my path, and learning all I must know along the way. God, that sounds so peaceful. This year, I am neither good nor bad; I am merely a little bug putting nutrients in the soil.

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