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Me, us, Picasso

I have started going to church again after two years of being too open-minded for the religion of my childhood. In short, my intellect took me to a place this past summer--while roaming the streets of Paris amidst stimulants of all kinds--in which I realized that it was not enough. With a basket of goods filled to the brim, I glanced inside and saw there was more room. "Oh my gosh, there is more to find." It was more like remembering than realizing.

There are other ways in which I have come full circle since August, 2000. I have moved from loving Duke for what it promised, to resenting Duke for who it made me, to loving Duke for what it is: an institution of learning. I am learning--or remembering--my money's worth here. And that's no small statement (or bank statement? dadum ching).

I came with an empty schedule, expecting to fill it with activities on which I would look back and say, "Before that, I thought differently." But by sophomore year it was filled with so many organizational duties that the concept of "pushing my mind" became wishful thinking. Now, having erased one by one these obligations, I am (essentially) an empty calendar again.

We have all looked back on something we have written and cringed. In fact, I would say that most of what I write, when I can bring myself to read it weeks or months later, stinks. So more often than not, I just don't read it. This is a fundamental difference between me--us--and Picasso.

Picasso could look at an apple and see it one way, only to see the next day in a completely new way. This change would enable two noticeably distinctive paintings. However, the latest painting was not simply the original apple framed differently; it was both the original and the previous painting transformed into newness by Picasso's own curiosity. You could say the curiosity?which varied with the circumstances in his life--was a catalyst. But his previous work--the de-constructed object captured from one angle, and then another--was what he had to work with, that was his clay. By letting the former inform the new, Picasso composed an artistic career with arguably more mobility than any other artist, ever.

To be able to change is one thing. To be able to look back on what you no longer want to be, for whatever reason, and say, "that person is not who I am now, but she was essential for who I am now"-that is Picasso.

I love short quotes because they are always taken out of context and can be made to mean whatever I want them to mean. I can apply them to life in my own way, and no one has the tools to criticize. I recently highlighted the following quote from a twentieth-century ethicist: "Entering into hostilities is to give up the ability to shift perspectives."

I am 20. A year ago I denounced the practice of Christianity as imperialistic and judgmental, and because I didn't want to be a hypocrite I avoided personal application of the religion in order to stay consistent with my beliefs. Today, I embrace hypocrisy. I still find the practice of Christianity imperialistic and judgmental on broad levels, but I find it increasingly nourishing and sensible on a personal level. The theology cannot be defined by the corruption of its institution, and that is where I am. I will change. I plan to change.

What Picasso knew and what I am trying to embrace is the humility that is necessary to move forward. It is having the courage to look back on what you've written, what you've published, what you have professed as TRUE-if-your-life-is-worth-anything and say, "Hmm. I was off" and learn from it. It does not mandate calling your old self stupid. That is where you were at the time. Now, you are at a different place, and if that makes you a chronological hypocrite, then by-God be a hypocrite. Otherwise, you may find yourself hostile with the burden that comes from defending what is no longer relevant to your life. Hence the 70 year-old racist.

Whenever the topic of "our biggest fears" comes up among my friends, one always describes his as "being forty, looking around, and realizing he has fallen into a routine from which he can't escape."

As I teeter between childhood and adulthood, I find that one of the most unattractive characteristics of the latter is the pressure to know. To be certain. To defend. Especially at a place where knowledge founds the institution?the older you get, the more questioning becomes taboo. Adulthood means that we will settle on codes of living that work for us and that we will embrace routine. These are inevitable. But right now, during college, we are also at a great place to work into our routines the openness and humility that enable constant change.

I may look back on this column like I did my last, with blushed red cheeks at having taken myself so seriously. But then I'll think, "What am I embarrassed about? I'm twenty. I'm still moving." And then I'll write another one with a lighter hand. Hell, maybe one day I'll attempt a humor piece. About myself. Trying to be funny. About myself. And there we go again: full circle.

Mary Adkins is a Trinity junior. Her column appears every third Tuesday.


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