With syllabus week long gone, the real first week of school is now halfway over. The part of me that dreads actually putting effort into classes has taken over and paralyzed my brain—a sensation best described as that spinning, rainbow wheel that shows up when a Mac momentarily freezes, buffering right inside my head. This is problematic to say the least. Being a senior who’s graduating this fall, I thought that I would be more pumped to finish out the school year and put my best foot forward because my brain would be flashing around pompoms like a cheerleader strung out on coke screaming, It’s the final stretch! Let’s get this done and finish strong. Instead, I dropped a class last week because it was raining and I didn’t want to go outside. Yeah, I’m that pathetic.
But when I see the first years on campus, ID’d by the lanyards around their neck notifying the rest of us of their purity and possession of dreams, I envy their boiling motivation. I was once like them. I want to pull a Dementor and just suck all the innocent urge to succeed right out of their naïve, glowing faces. At this point, the only Patronus that could ward me off would be the form of an HR representative offering me a job.
At our first ever Recess meeting last week, we had so many bright-eyed, bushy-tailed freshies who wanted to take up a story and try their hand at arts journalism, something that they may not have done before. It’s a scary proposition, honestly, and I commend everyone for just showing up to the meeting. One freshie, after signing up to write, announced to everyone later on in the meeting that there was a lot of organic chemistry reading assigned this weekend, and she might want to sit this week out. That was really adorable, and I couldn’t help but die of laughter on the inside. I want to record that moment and play it back to her at the end of the school year because she’ll realize how ridiculous of a statement that was. It only gets worse from syllabus week, and you slowly start drowning once you click "enroll" on DukeHub.
But her concern was symptomatic of the early strains of debilitating pressure to succeed here at this school. We grow hardened and serious as students and success-climbers to the point that, unless we actively engage with it, creativity atrophies away—a loss of imagination.
Part of why I think my motivation has dropped this semester is that the culture at college, especially here at Duke, is toxic to creativity. I thrive on being creative (even if my work sucks), primarily through writing, and here, I feel like I can’t even do that unless it’s for a class or for a beloved institution of mine—and even then, the writing is mechanical and devoid of voice, searching for an exemplary grade. The grind of working for grades, coupled with the latent academic competitiveness and the struggles of social pressure, has placed a hit out on my muses, who are apparently hiding in plain sight. During my summer internship, I wrote five pages a week, easily. Fast-forward to now, and I can barely write this 800-word editor’s note—and trust me, I have the all the time in the world to write. Even as a senior, I can’t escape the creative rigor mortis inflicted by academics and meaningless extracurriculars. It’s definitely a mindset game.
If you’ve made it this far through my self-righteous, mourning rant on creativity, you have to understand two things: 1) The high of penning something the world has never seen before and having it published or read by people is unmatched. So yeah, I’d like that process to be less hindered. 2) I realize Duke has several creative groups on campus from dance to theater to music, and even if I’m not involved in them, they serve many people well. I know we didn’t come to art school, but seriously, it’s a problem when most performances on campus are made up of non-students and friends of the performers who have to be there. Advertise some free food or networking opportunities, and those student numbers change a bit. I’ve been covering the arts at Duke and in Durham for three years now, and the lack of student engagement is stunning. There’s a good chance I suck at my job and haven’t covered most arts events, but I don’t think that’s the case.
I wish Duke students were actively more creative. Now, I’m not implying that we lack the propensity to be creative—you can’t get into this school without a modicum of creative ingenuity. What I mean is, I wish Duke students weren't actively dissuaded to try anything of the sort unless it’s accessible at their fingertips and they don’t have to put in much time and effort…kinda like a Facebook meme group.
This is the Fall Arts Preview. Inside are articles about some of the most interesting arts events happening at Duke and in Durham this semester written by brave, first-time writers. We’re literally telling you how you can flex your creative muscles if you’re willing to walk or Uber within a 10-mile radius of your dorm. I’ve had to drag several friends, several times, to arts events all over Durham, and after each time, they always say, "That was really cool. I didn’t know we had stuff like this going on. It really got me out of the Duke brain mindset." That’s all I ask, Duke. Make time for creativity, and please, give it chance.