Station to Station
November 24, 2009 9:37 PM   Subscribe

I am 19; my life has been consisting lately of writing my research paper, school, and planning for the future. I do love these things, but it's not enough. I'm not a recluse, after all. How can I fit myself into my life? How can I fit into the scheme of things?

I just wrote an incredibly long autobiography but my dear LeechBlock blocked it right before I posted. I'm taking that as a sign to shorten it.

My school vacation is starting today, and I have a week of sloth to find something purposeful to fill it with. I've noticed that my happiness is contingent on doing things I find purposeful. My homework is all accounted for, I have a weekend job, and I volunteer at a theater, but that's not enough. I do have friends, but just thinking about inviting them over is an excruciating thought. They are fine for a while, and if I were a more adaptable person, I'm sure I'd have no problem having them become even better/closer friends, but we have some fundamental differences. I mean, I don't want to watch their YouTube videos or watch them check their Facebook...I want to discuss how the Biocentric Theory of the Universe is like Berkeley coming back from the dead! I know the merit of having friends who are different from you, but I can only take so much. I am constantly adapting to them, and it can be tiring. Of course, I've been getting some good out of it; I've been attacking most of my friends (and my sister...and my mom) with the things I've been learning in my philosophy class, and it's fun hearing objections to what I've learned by everyday, non-philosophy-class people. (Me: "So Mill said that the kind of happiness that requires higher faculties to appreciate is of a higher quality and should be held to a higher value" My mom: "But happiness is different to everyone!")

Maybe I just want it all. I like fun, but my idea of fun isn't anything involving drunkenness, Walmart, video games, or things like that. I'd like a mischievous walk through a dark park or something like that, I'm not completely boring! But I also want purposeful activities and conversations. I'm not really getting either...I just feel boring.

Usually I spend the day in the coffee shop writing my research paper (which is now coming to where to put that comma; I don't know what I'm going to do when I'm really, really, finally done with that paper). But, it's getting to be tedious doing the same thing every single day when you're not a natural recluse. I love interaction, but I've had to start finding quality conversations in atypical ways. Because you know who will talk about philosophy with me? Old men in the coffee shop; old men in the bookstore. This is problematic because 1. I never know whether they are hitting on me. I mean, they are old and they are men. This did happen to me once, and I guess it traumatised me. I always assume that they might be so enchanted by how I am actually willing to hold a conversation with them that they have inappropriate thoughts. (I want nothing more than to just be considered intellectually competent...so hard to be a woman), and 2. Old philosophical men generally have more education than I do, and it makes me feel inferior. This is fine...except a lot of times what they say goes over my head. (I am only in an introductory class, and sometimes they are retired professors who talk to me like I have my own established opinions!) So I feel like I'm stuck in the middle...between my college friends who I can't assimilate with and these old men who may or may not be hitting on me, and who I nonetheless can't become good friends with anyway (seriously!)

So, how should I find purpose in my life? It's like I am trying to go through a dark thicket when really, where I should be is that nice sensory garden directly parallel to me. Something is amiss here. How can I fit into my own life; how can I fit into the scheme of things?

A few afterthoughts:

Lately, my primary happiness in life is my philosophy class. It's no good because this is only twice a week, and it's mostly because I like to talk to my teacher after class, as it's an easy quality philosophical conversation. (Otherwise, it'd be some stranger who may or may not be easy/interesting to talk to). I end up looking forward to it. This may be unhealthy.

An example of what purpose for me in an ideal world might be writing/discussing/hopefully publishing a paper for an undergraduate philosophical journal (I want to be a professor in the distant future, and I like to think ahead. I know it's a real climb and, well, you have to start somewhere...)
posted by lhude sing cuccu to Education (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I don't think it's unhealthy to look forward to your philosophy class. Before I got to your last paragraph, I was going to suggest academia as a career for you, so it looks like you've got that sorted, which is awesome. Also, as you know the job market in the humanities is hideous, so it's good that you're prepared and excited to work really, really hard.

As for your friends, I think you need to try and open up your mind a bit. Now by that, I don't mean you need to go out and get trashed, etc. But it sounds like you're focused a lot on what you don't like to do. But at your age, you will be served really, really well by not making blanket statements like "I don't enjoy this," or "I'm not interested in that," but rather approaching all new opportunities with an open mind and heart, and really trying to enjoy them.

Here's a way to approach it that your analytical mind might enjoy. You say you like purposeful conversations and activities. Well, you know what? Everything that people say or do has some sort of purpose. Even if it's just sitting on the couch, watching TV, the purpose is entertainment, or the easing of loneliness or boredom. When someone makes small talk with you about the weather, they're trying to form a small human connection, or trying to avoid social awkwardness. What if you went into all these activities and conversations with the attitude that you're going to try to figure out what their purpose is - what sort of meaning do these seemingly boring activities have for people? And might these activities have some meaning for you if you allow them to?

You'll probably end up doing some things you don't enjoy much. That's ok. An evening is just a few hours of your life. But I bet more often, you'll end up having way more fun than you expected, and you will probably develop some stronger friendships too.
posted by lunasol at 10:14 PM on November 24, 2009


It sounds like you've found a potential purpose in philosophy (I say this as an ordinarily social person who has lately become fairly reclusive in pursuit of my own 'purpose,' however). I don't think academic pursuits should by any means be your only motivating force, but if you've found an intellectual discipline to center yourself around, that's a great start.

I've been attacking most of my friends (and my sister...and my mom) with the things I've been learning in my philosophy class, and it's fun hearing objections to what I've learned by everyday, non-philosophy-class people.

On the other hand, this is a road to disaster. It's hard not to nerd out on the people you're close to, because you want to share what is most important to you, but I don't think your use of the word "attack" is entirely coincidental. Save the philosophy talk for the old men in the coffee shop. I don't mean that you should never engage your friends/family in philosophical debate, but it can be easy to let that become your dominant mode of interaction. You found something that really gets you going, so when you interact with others, try to figure out what it is that they are really excited about. Everybody's got something. The more things you find out about, the more options you'll have to select from in fleshing out your philosophical lifestyle.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 10:15 PM on November 24, 2009


If you've enjoyed having arguments in your philosophy and political science classes, you're going to love political activism.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 10:20 PM on November 24, 2009


I do have friends, but just thinking about inviting them over is an excruciating thought.

I have exactly two people still in my life that I would have called friends when I was nineteen, and neither of them are people that I connect with on anything close to a daily or even weekly basis. Jump ahead five years though and there's any number of people who were friends then and are still vital parts of my network.

The point here is, you're only now really starting to get out there and define the adult human being that you're going to be, and a HUGE part of this is choosing your network (consciously or not). You mention you want to find people with whom you can "... discuss how the Biocentric Theory of the Universe is like Berkeley coming back from the dead!" A laudable goal. They're definitely out there. I'd start looking at a University or college (it sounds like you already have), but don't overlook book stores, bus stops, flea markets or the right coffee shop ... even a MeFi meet-up.

Bottom line -- you're only nineteen, you're not supposed to have much of anything figured out yet. Use your frustration as fuel to get you somewhere that's perhaps inconceivable to you right now. That's kind of how life works.
posted by philip-random at 10:35 PM on November 24, 2009


This might be obvious, but at my university there are clubs for most majors, including a Philosophy club, an Art History club, an English club, etc., and they welcome interested students from any major. (There wasn't one for my major, so I started one, which wasn't difficult; it takes some work to maintain the club, but it's worth it.) In my experience, these provide an hour a week of decent conversation with people with shared interests, and some beginnings of friendships. The Physics club also does a science outreach program for local schools, and a couple of my friends have really enjoyed helping with that.

Less traditional: read philosophy blogs by students & professors around the world, and write your own blog with carefully-written, not-too-long, interesting posts engaging with issues in other people's blogs and in your classes. That's a conversation in its own way, and you might be able to build your reputation as a philosophy writer piece by piece like that.
posted by dreamyshade at 12:28 AM on November 25, 2009


I've noticed that my happiness is contingent on doing things I find purposeful. My homework is all accounted for, I have a weekend job, and I volunteer at a theater, but that's not enough.

Yeah, that's not enough. Homework is homework, not a life choice, not facio— something done or made. A job is for money. Unless you're very good at doing or making something, most jobs aren't terribly fullfilling. Theater is a start in the right direction, but again, doing and making. You're not having a lot of either.

Get a hobby. Find something you enjoy and make it your bitch. Become the master of that thing. Doesn't matter what it is. Right now you're simply consuming. Eating a little here and there, getting steadily more full but never satiated. You need to start cooking (not, er, literally… unless that's what you want to do, that is).

! But I also want purposeful activities and conversations. I'm not really getting either...I just feel boring.

As the song says, if you're bored than you're boring. It really is that simple. Get off the fucking internet and go live a little.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:44 AM on November 25, 2009


As a formerly reclusive history nerd, the best thing I ever did for my social life (and life in general, maybe) was move in with and befriend a bunch of art students. If you judge them for drinking and partying, you won't get too far, but art kids are generally 1) smarter than you'd think and b) into all sorts of theories. YMMV.
posted by oinopaponton at 5:09 AM on November 25, 2009


Knit for charity. Even the most basic beginner created plain knit squares are in enormous need for warm blankets. As you get more advanced you can make hats, shawls, mittens, toys, anything really.

It calms parts of the brain while activating others. Great for fine motor coordination, hand eye coordination, patience, and it helps with math.

It's the most meaningful thing I do. And I say this as someone who volunteers in other capacities, is finishing a BA degree. Also, I'm 28 and I want to tell you I'm so excited for you because you're tackling some of life's most (oh darn, that's a Guy Noir quote) persistent questions. I mean, questions that humanity asks through the ages, and questions that you will turn over and over in your mind.

Other suggestions - baked goods can often be donated to your local food bank, even muffins for people to snack on while they wait in line.

Literacy programs would be happy to have you.

Womens health advocates (as well as minorities, and children) are always needed.

You may live in an area that has need for Guardian ad Litem volunteers (helping the courts figure out what is in the best interest of children.)

Another activity I really enjoy are beach cleanup days. Of course, in November the beach isn't the funnest place to hang, but local parks often need a hand.

Last suggestion, Habitat for Humanity.
posted by bilabial at 6:08 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Does your school have a philosophy club? Start one.
posted by phrontist at 8:06 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


As the song says, if you're bored than you're boring. It really is that simple. Get off the fucking internet and go live a little.

I already know I'm boring, you guys. Sure, you can tell me to just go outside and suddenly something interesting will come along. The problem revolves around the fact that "living a little" is just eluding me. I mean, define "living a little". What do you want me to do? I can't think of anything that's not either walking around the mall/some store, or doing something in seclusion. This happens every vacation, when my only useful activity in life is taken from me.

Other people are going to say on our first day back, "Oh, I wish I wasn't in school! I wish we were still on vacation!" I just don't understand it all!
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 8:37 AM on November 25, 2009


Yeah, the quoted comment isn't real sympathetic.

A couple more ideas: I get a ridiculous amount of satisfaction from doing my own guerilla "adopt a block" program — going on a walk during the daytime and bringing along a plastic bag for picking up trash. A little bit of sun is really good for me, and I also bring my camera in case I see anything interesting in the neighborhood (odd buildings, a lost shower head, etc.). This is easy because it's by yourself, but there are also more social ways to get outside (like the beach cleanup suggestion above).

A bunch of people I know have had great experiences with their local chapters of Food Not Bombs (feeding hungry people with meals made of surplus food), which can provide a built-in social network of intelligent and interesting people, mostly college students. Also you get to mischievously dumpster dive.
posted by dreamyshade at 9:14 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


As the song says, if you're bored than you're boring.

I actually have an unfinished screenplay somewhere where somebody gets murdered for dumping that line on the wrong person.

Your boredom is acute. This is clear. And not such a bad thing in the long run in that it's motivating you to seek change in your situation. Yes, things suck for you right now but, as another song says, All Things Must Pass, particularly if we take action to make it so, which you are doing.

Keep at it.

It's taken you 19 years to get to where you are right now. Don't expect everything to change overnight.
posted by philip-random at 9:31 AM on November 25, 2009


Hopefully you can hear this advice way up on that high horse of yours...

Look for open-to-the-public lectures at local colleges and universities to attend. I live in NJ and the schools in this state, Phila, and NYC have great offerings. You can talk to fellow attendee and maybe make some friends in your age bracket. Ask the presenter questions - this can come back to you in the future, in a good way, like networking.
I don't know where you live, but I'm sure you can make a day trip out of going to a nearby school to hear such a lecture.

Oh, you appear to like music too. Is there a local Classical Music Appreciation Society? Npr station that holds events? Go.

Get a hobby that involves something physical outdoors. I like hiking. It keeps you in tune with the actuall world you live in which is especially important if your job is going to have you holed up with a computer a lot. Sometimes you just need a reminder that modernity all the time is too much.

Lastly:

I've been attacking most of my friends (and my sister...and my mom) with the things I've been learning in my philosophy class, and it's fun hearing objections to what I've learned by everyday, non-philosophy-class people. (Me: "So Mill said that the kind of happiness that requires higher faculties to appreciate is of a higher quality and should be held to a higher value" My mom: "But happiness is different to everyone!")

Do you really want to be like that? It reaks of a superiority complex. I don't think you're a big stupid idiot because you don't fully understand the rules of hockey. Don't think that just because someone doesn't want to dicuss philosophy with you that they are lesser and only enjoy drinking and going to Walmart. People are multifaceted.

Also, your mom's response is actually fitting, even if you don't realize it. Who's to judge what faculties are required to appreciate something and what value something has? It is different for everybody.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:52 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Where are you going to school? You may want to consider transferring to someplace more intellectual... student body/culture is an important part of a school.
posted by shivohum at 10:00 AM on November 25, 2009


Nthing the advice to get a hobby. Not only does it give you a way to spend your time, but it gives you an avenue to connect with people of a similar interest. Your school may have groups or clubs centered around certain activities, or you may be able to find something on a site like Meetup. It doesn't matter what hobby you choose to try...you may be surprised at how many interesting people, even budding philosophers you find: From my own experience, I like to knit. I majored in computer science. Turns out there are quite a few computer-science-knitters. I never would have guessed.

In terms of finding this hobby, ask yourself what sorts of things you enjoyed doing when you were 5. Were you making things? Doing a lot of physical activites? Or think about some random little skills you've learned which you've never really pursued (this is how I got into knitting...I learned when I was young but didn't really pick it up until I saw a pattern for a sweater that I just had to have). And expect to be terrible at it at first: this can work to your advantage if you join a group, since more experienced people will likely be thrilled to help you learn something they already love.

To me, it seems like a hobby solves multiple aspects of your dilemma. It is definitely something I'd look into.
posted by moutonoir at 10:42 AM on November 25, 2009


Hopefully you can hear this advice way up on that high horse of yours...

Also, your mom's response is actually fitting, even if you don't realize it. Who's to judge what faculties are required to appreciate something and what value something has? It is different for everybody.


I meant that what everyday people have to say about these things are perfectly valid, and it's fun to try to refute the kinds of objections we'd never even discuss in class. And I don't continue these kinds of conversations if they're not wanted or force them on anyone.

There's no high horse, calm down.

OK guys, I know where this is going, so I've marked this question resolved.
Thanks for all your answers (the thoughtful ones, anyway).
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 12:46 PM on November 25, 2009


Huh.

I'm a little surprised by the reaction here.

My life changed drastically when I discovered philosophy classes at around age 19. A big part of this was that I started to hang out with people from my philosophy classes. These people are still my friends today. One of them read portions of our letters to one another at my wedding. His speech discussed the "necessity of the bidirectionality of love." You could tell by the response that about 4 people (all from my philosophy classes) got it, but that's okay. I mean, that's what we're all there for--to get that sort of thing for one another.

I say, keep doing your philosophy reading over break. Keep yourself inundated with the sort of stuff that you love. Keep taking philosophy classes next semester, and keep your ear open for any sort of philosophy club or philosophy department events at your school. If you take any night classes, find out if the professors go out to bars with students afterwards; that was pretty common at my school. You don't have to drink--just go and bullshit with them. Those first few months of becoming open to this sort of thing can be hard, especially as a girl (for men so inclined, there are more opportunities to geek out casually and in a friendly manner without worrying about someone just coming on to you). The key is to dig deeper into it, until you find like-minded peers. My college was pretty small, but they were out there; they're bound to be out there for you, too. Just know that you're not alone in this, and you're not a freak.

Geeze, guys, seriously.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:06 PM on November 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


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