Learning how to write sentences again

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on how I choose to communicate—why I hold my tongue, or why I let it run. This past weekend, it occurred to me that there was no reason why I was holding onto a specific piece of information that’s caused me rage for three years. Thus, I took to Instagram and divulged the name of the student who, in my freshman year, attempted to assault me. That part of me was already stained, but this divulgence could help protect others from him. Once, I feared that Duke would strike back at me if I ever spoke publicly about it, because the university is notoriously terrible at handling sexual misconduct cases. However, this is an all-too-common tragedy that goes beyond this university—what happened to me could have happened to anyone, anywhere. When institutions fail to protect us (which is often), I’ve learned that sometimes, you have to rely on good people.

I spent the better part of my weekend, too stunned by the messages I received to do much of anything. I wasn’t thinking about the reaction I’d receive, but it was overwhelmingly one of solidarity. It reminded me of the power of shared writing—a power accentuated when there’s a clear image centered in it, and a call to action. My only regret now is that I didn’t speak up earlier.

All this is to say that writing out what had happened made me realize the type of person I aspire to be—steadfast in my convictions. Maybe I embodied this to some extent as a columnist, but I’ve transitioned to editor roles since. I’ve also had to bulk up my course load with STEM major requirements, so I haven’t written many academic papers since then. In this sense, it’s been a while since I’ve had to write with an audience in mind, and I’m afraid this lack of intentionality has trickled into my real-life communication. Although I’ve majorly turned to writing poetry as a creative outlet, my poetry is more for myself than it is to reach anyone.

As an editor, helping others form their ideas and express them clearly has been more meaningful to me than publishing my own columns. I’m consistently inspired by the passion, the moxie, the intelligence of our writers. However, I sometimes fear that I’ve lost the art of writing my own sentences and paragraphs. Recently, I rifled through my old columns, and damn, I don’t remember how my words once fell so easily into formation. 

Half of the time, I’m not even sure what a sentence is. I slog through it, from the rusty beginning to the clunky middle to the awkwardly dangling end. But I don’t want it to be this way anymore; I want to be able to write with conviction again. I want to live and communicate with purpose, rather than trudging through each day (which has become common for me). I want to wield my sentences with intention—in order to bring about a better world, happier people.

So starting now, I want to get used to writing sentences again. I want to reflect on my college experience, in sentences—and I guess this is the space to do that. I want to remember the good and the bad—to package my memories in punctuation and paragraph, so that I don’t forget them:

I want to remember how the chapel looks like a demon at night under ruby light. If you keep the afterimage in your head as the lasers morph blue, it actually looks like the Blue Devil.

I remember my heartache when I attended DEMAN weekend and gazed into the faces of the alumni panelists, none of whom looked remotely like me. I remember my dreams to pursue a creative field splintering under my discomfort.

I want to remember playing hooky, skipping class to go to concerts. I remember jumping out of the Uber towards Red Hat Amphitheater, hours before doors opened—crouching on the pavement under feathery rain, because I desperately wanted to see Phoebe Bridgers up close (I made it to the barricade!). I remember the times I boarded a Greyhound or Amtrak to Charlotte, once even booked a motel overnight there, so that I could attend some concert.

I remember crying on the Marketplace as cold sunlight splashed on my face—feeling like I’d never find a niche here, that I had no voice. I’d felt corrupted since December, when an acquaintance refused to understand what No or Stop! means, when he kept trying to convince me that I was high although I was dead sober, when his greasy fingers reached out at my fully-clothed legs. Rush had also happened recently, and as I watched sorority girls in shiny dresses walking past East to a party, I felt further invisible.

I want to remember going to class, too—reading my classmates’ poetry and prose in sweltering Allen building classrooms—those lightning strikes of awe and inspiration, my chest swelling as their words rattled around my brain. I want to remember how I refused to sell my Personality Psychology textbook, because what if I ever forgot all the cool theories I learned and wanted to refresh myself on them? I want to remember forcing myself to have a crush in each of the classes I dreaded attending, so that I could have some motivation for going.

I remember my deep depression last spring after my grandfather passed away. I got a week off from school, which my word of the death wasn’t enough to warrant—I could receive the accommodation only after sending proof. I painfully phoned my grieving mother to ask for a photo of the death certificate, those Mandarin characters in black ink that I knew my dean couldn’t read. Later, I had to make up the material from that missed week, despite having no motivation, and subsequently ended up in a cycle of catch-up for the whole semester (I think I turned in three assignments on time). I remember clutching my knuckles, thinking that there’s no space for bereavement at Duke—or for any distracting emotion, only for mechanical contentment.

Most of all, at risk of sounding cheesy, I want to remember the people I love here. One night last semester, I came home, black-out drunk (from the Chronicle semi, in fact), and stared at my smudged eyeliner in the mirror, listing out my friends’ names and rambling about how much I loved them. (Later, my roommate told me about this performance). But the most remarkable moments have been devoid of alcohol. I want to remember going on runs with friends across the cobblestones sidewalks in downtown Durham—gasping for breath, but the pain was more bearable, knowing we’d treat ourselves to Moge Tee afterwards. I want to remember huddling over a shared screen, binging “Hunter x Hunter” or “Moon Lovers” or “Love Island” as the sky grew pitch—after which we’d avidly discuss the cinematography, the character arcs. I want to remember our competitive obsession over random games—Bananagrams, Scattergories, Jeo-party, GeoGuessr. I want to remember leisurely walks in Maplewood Cemetery, a confirmed safe place to lament the horrors of heartbreak or capitalism. I want to remember that it's them who have made my Duke experience what it is. I want them to know that. 

Carrie Wang is a Trinity senior who served as an opinion managing editor for Volume 117, after previous roles as graphics editor and columnist. She would like to thank Margot, Mihir and Leah for their dedication as Opinion editors and for being a joy to work with over the past three years, all her columnists for their unending creativity and candor and anyone who has ever read one of her columns or supported or shared her writing (especially the Duke Chinese parents’ WeChat group, which she is probably the main reason anyone read her first column). 


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