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In the moment


In my OneNote notebook, I have a section called "Writing" for my Chronicle columns. Every week, I sit down and write and/or revise a column I'm working on. Throughout the semester, it's grown to include roughly 10 completed columns and drafts.

In my OneNote notebook, I have another section called "Duke Diary" for me to record and document things that have happened to me this semester. I wrote in it regularly during O-week. Throughout the semester, it's grown to include exactly one additional entry from Fall Break.

If you ask people about the photos they've taken, people can easily pull up camera rolls, Snapchat memories and Facebook photo albums. And yet of the 30+ blogs that people I know have started, only a handful have updated in the past three months.

Why are people good at documenting their lives in certain ways, and so bad at others? I kept a diary religiously throughout all of middle school and a blog throughout high school. What's changed in college?

One simple answer is the accessibility of people. Why take the time to write something down, when there are people who are welcoming and willing to help you sort through your problems? Why write out all my column ideas when I could easily discuss them with a friend at Marketplace? Why am I spending hours pulling together a column twice a month, when these are just conversations I'm having with friends? (And perhaps most relevant- why am I writing when I should be studying for finals?)

Another straightforward answer is time. Why bother taking the time to find the right words, when a press of a button on a camera is enough? And perhaps even more important and pressing—if I spend too much time reflecting on my life, doesn't that mean I'm not spending enough time living, especially at a place like Duke with so many opportunities around me?

But maybe now I'm curious about that tiny insecurity I had a few months ago that I didn’t want to bother anyone about. Who were the people I thought about, and what were the thoughts that filled my downtime? Did I reach the same epiphany multiple times in the past few months? I like to think that the written word has a stronger presence—the same way that people say that a movie adaptation of a book will never live up to the book itself. And in Flannery O'Connor's words, "I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”

This isn’t to say that private documentation is dead. I still know people who write letters to themselves. I know many people who journal. I know people who have private blogs. I know people who've kept audio diaries. There's a joy in writing privately—the same joy with keeping a secret. But with any form of public expression (social media, private messaging, columns, etc.) there's a pressure in writing publicly that pushes one to actually document things. Don’t we all, to an extent, want our works to be seen?

A week before I left for Duke, a friend messaged me some unsolicited advice on Facebook: “I would recommend keeping up some kind of blog during the first year of college! I think it's one of my (few) regrets—that I didn't sit down to reflect enough. I was thinking very similarly to you when I started—that I wanted to just absorb everything, but it's sort of hard to really realize what's going on if you don't sit down and think about what (and why!) you are doing things.”

Now, at the end of my first semester, my camera roll only has a smattering of photos. The notebook I use as a planner has a few fringe thoughts scattered across a few months. And it’s tempting to think that in some way, I’ve “lived more in the moment” or enjoyed my experiences more. Maybe, as Dean Nowicki said during convocation (almost 4 months ago) I’ve avoided becoming the tourist who runs around the Louvre taking selfies with the art while not enjoying the works themselves. But that was only a metaphor, and in that same speech, he said, “You’ll take a boatload of selfies over the next four years and that’s great.”

After my first column of the semester, I joked with some of my friends that for the rest of the semester that I'd only be writing columns about being awkward at Duke. Maybe figuring out how to balance being there for the experience with having some sort of record is just another thing for students at Duke to juggle on top of our health, school, friends and life.

Amy Fan is a Trinity first-year. Her column, "fangirling," runs on alternate Tuesdays.

Amy Fan | fangirling

Amy Fan is a Trinity senior. Her column, "fangirling," runs on alternate Thursdays.


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