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Our noisy lives

I don’t want to have a thousand friends. And good thing because I probably never will. I’m grumpy and competitive. I can be stubborn, and I expect a lot. I hold grudges more often than I should. Some say I’m fiery—I like to think of it more as spunky or spirited. Truth be told though, I can count on my two hands—okay, and maybe a few toes—the number of people in my life so far that I consider to be my closest, dearest friends. Friends who get my lame puns and quirks, who know that I like to eat turkey BLTs in the shower or have peanut butter on my Oreos. And I like to think I just maybe get them, too. Their obsession with all things indie or their giant metal suns with no place to hang, or even their funny aversion to mayo.

So, you may say, what ever happened to the more the merrier? Popularity is still totally in. You can never have too many friends! But you can. And I think that many of us do.

And so here I start my first column. A column that I hope will share my outlook on life and life at Duke and on the funny niche I’ve managed to carve within both.

As the academic year came to a close, with it came the usual nagging question: Where am I going with my life? Alongside it was its brat of a stepsister: How can I be healthier and happier when the fall semester returns? And really only one word came to mind. Noise.

Noise is not limited to a boom, a clang, a screech or a holler. Noise means anything that is tolerable yet annoying and often noticed only subliminally. It maims by attrition and weighs down your spirit like a sopping wet towel. Noise is pervasive. It’s in the blather of chatty Kathy, it’s in the construction beeping outside your Edens window, it’s in the bi-minute notifications of our cellphones. It’s in the constant contact which we so steadfastly maintain. It’s in our deadlines. It’s in the activities we do just to give our resume an edge. It’s in busy work. It’s in words better left unsaid. It’s in settling for “it’ll do for now.” It’s in having 1,083 Facebook friends and cluttered newsfeeds. This year, I have found that noise especially lurks in one-sidedness. At Duke, academics and forward thinking are too often greedy. “What next?” is stealing the moment in the sun from “what now?”

This has been a banner year for me in the noise department. I moved out of my room a month into second semester because of a noisy living situation. I took organic chemistry with a professor whose course is so rigorous he has his own memes. “Easy test … Average: 50/150.” I was stressed and out of my element. I felt strangled on campus.

I needed air. I needed a wider perspective. And I needed quiet. Time to think. Not about benzene or moving out. Just to watch my chest rise and fall. I longed for simplicity and pined for a little good-old-fashioned peace and quiet. I scanned the trash-littered halls of Wannamaker, Perkins, the gardens, even downtown Durham but peace was nowhere to be found.

So I began to think, really think, about what mattered. Drowning out the noise had been right in front of me all along. Escaping it wasn’t exactly possible. The key was finding the sound within it all—the beautiful backdrop amidst all the loudness. Finding the things in life that make us tick and eliminating those that just plain don’t. I found mine in reading a good book now and then just because, even though “I didn’t have time.” In cooking dinner, in dancing at dusk to something soft and slow. And in friends.

I reconnected with the people who were interesting, inspiring and kind to me. I took a breather from those who were not. I began to value saying no over being polite, focusing more on deep friendships than the breadth of my acquaintances, prioritizing honesty with oneself and giving more to the people and things that mattered the most. Therein I found deep, rich, robust sound.

Gracie Willert is a Trinity junior.

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