“I’m not bitter, just tired. I’m going to bed.” – Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird
Last night I sat in the car of an old friend til late, thinking and talking about many things, including my running for the House Captaincy, since voting closed at 10pm. We overanalysed every probing message we sent to the House Committee, until they told me politely and cordially that I did not have to come for Quidditch if I did not want to. From there on we sighed and realised, this was it; a tentative confirmation.
But the results are indeed out, and I have lost the House Captaincy Elections, a singularity which has dominated this blog for the past week or so. It’s only relevant if you care. In a normal year, people within the House barely even bother. The only difference this year is that a weathered Year4 was running against two Year1s fresh out of their Freshmen Orientation Programme.
I can’t deny that it has been very heartwarming for me: to have strangers from all over the USP community come up to tell me that they were inspired, tickled and proud at what I tried to do/did. But at the same time I never set out to do it to win anyone’s approval. If I needed your approval I would have been more polite, quiet, and not set out to post inane Facebook posts and sharp comments.
I had run out of a fundamental frustration at how inadequate the House Committee seemed to be at meeting the needs of the rest of its supposed members, beyond the freshmen bubble. The common grouse of “Oh It Takes Two Hands to Clap, What are The Seniors Doing, They Are SO Apathetic” sounded so bizarre when putting up posters about tangential events seemed to be the extent of the much-vaunted “Senior-Junior Interaction”, a helping word which has been much kicked around like a frightened puppy this whole House Election cycle. I wanted to try something new.
How do we bring everyone from so many different stages of their life together, linked by an arbitrary colour? Why should we even bother? Can we even succeed? This worry rang stridently through the questions of even the two-month-old freshmen who attended the Ursaia Q&A. These aren’t silly complaints. These are real problems. But it struck me as strange that when a senior finally did step up to “do something”, the reception is so hostile and wary. It struck me as ironic (but perhaps not so ironic) that at the Q&A, I had to appeal more to a very thin section of the electorate who had known me for two weeks (tops), than the remaining three quarters (Years 2-4) some of who had literally known me for years. That the views of a very vocal and bonded (and young) minority would count for so much more than the the remaining three quarters who were seeing, or had seen and heard it all: the whole exasperated deja vu of the Jaded Senior hearing the same not-so-sexy catchphrases for the past few years (we are very chill, bonding, close, identity, inclusive is in the starter pack but if you pay $0.99 NOW you also get USP Community, togetherness, We Are All Friends, Buaya Buayee, and even Christmas Book Exchange).
Nothing more than Feelings
How do I feel?
I think friends who have spoken to me in the past few days have been sardonically amused at my streams of consciousness, watching me oscillate between terror of winning the election and terror of losing the election. Last night was no different, and when the non-committal answer from the House Committee finally arrived I sat there feeling a complex brew of bitterness, disappointment, relief, joy – and weariness.
Bitterness, disappointment, anger – these are the understandable emotions of any loser. I know nobody took me seriously for the longest time when I announced my decision to run for House Captain again. But I was serious. I still am serious. It’s a stupid burden to take on in my final year at university, because there are other things to do.
Some have questioned my ulterior motives. While ulterior motives are nice, certificates and medals aren’t as satisfying as knowing that you are doing it for people who really matter. Living, thinking, feeling friends. I know that’s a difficult idea to get your cold brain-teeth around, but sometimes I am genuinely genuine.
And I am also a very competitive person. I make a virtue out of losing, but the flavour remains as bitter as ever. Losing is never fun, although it can be very enriching. So that sinking feeling in the gut and in the heart were there. If I was bitter and a sore loser (which I am), I would go into a longer tirade. Something something juniors. Something something House Committee; kingmakers; incredibly skewed voting weightages. Something something bitter unfair sour-grapes comment.
Those are, however, the banalities of any loser, as trite and as trivial as any candidate at House or MC Q&A. I won’t deny that these are feelings I have felt; they are natural understandable emotions, but I don’t think they are the most productive thoughts, nor the final ones. If I was a freshman i wouldn’t want no stupid senior upstart (oh, the irony) come crashing into my supper togetherness fantasies either. I understand that, because it was indeed fun being a freshman once too.
There is some disappointment, but dwelling on them gets me nowhere. It probably won’t even get me enough likes. I suppose all I can say is that we have lost an opportunity to expand the House into something dramatically more than a Freshman + OGL club. I’m not disappointed that I tried, and failed; I am only disappointed at how we will never know how the popular vote truly went.
Yet – there is also relief and joy. The list of opportunities, readings and essays for a Year Four can be phenomenal, as I am only just beginning to find out. Work has been calling very insistently the past few days, and the insistent cries are getting even louder. And while I would never have backed down or resigned if I had been elected – because I am stubborn like that – it is still quite some work to establish a House Committee; it is still quite some work to pick up broken pieces, and hope they can still be put back together again. Being the first Year 4 House Captain in USP’s brief history of Houses would have probably been quite an adventure and arduous challenge, to say the least, with all eyes watching this Grand Experiment. And the past few nights, as I stumbled into bed glaze-eyed from a full day of schoolwork and other commitments I genuinely wondered if I would be up for another Captaincy, with all its social obligations and unsaid expectations. It’s one thing to dive headlong into something you have no idea about; it’s another thing to walk back into the cave to fight the old monster again.
There is also a sense of closure. If nothing at all, this whole adventure has vocalised a lot of underlying frustration and unhappiness at a latent problem which, while not so serious, is serious and sad enough. It has given the space for some dirty laundry to be aired (“so what’s your problem, huh, huh??” – drama at the Ursaia Q&A). The (lack of) senior engagement, or the so-called “Senior-Junior Divide” which a recent MC candidate so carelessly bandied about, isn’t going to break into a riot any time soon. USP students these days are more interested in enriching their CVs then protesting their imagined (lack of) civil liberties. These grievances needed to be aired – although the Q&A, in a meta way, suggested to me that the only way this “divide” was going to heal was simply time.
Time: The Days which Must Happen
Perspective and life experience gives nuance. Although I am only 24 years young and am in no position to say such things, you come to a point when you see and hear enough to have a rough shot at divining the medium-term future. You get an approximate sense of when someone is building castles in the air, and when they are building castles in deep bedrock. You learn to trust your vibes about a person.
Time. When juniors take on more responsibilities. When juniors are pummelled by the vicissitudes of schoolwork and deadlines. When they go on exchange, manage ISMs and gain more nuance in their perspectives – and then, when they come back, full circle, after a year or so sojourning outside; when they return to Cinnamon College and find that they no longer recognise anyone in the Dining Hall, or Chatterbox, or their USP classes. Then they will turn around and try to change things and get sneered at by the next group of juniors.
But until such things happen to a freshman, s/he could never properly comprehend the angsty, incoherent ranting of depraved seniors. The world is still a nice, distinct bubble filled with nice clichés and clear strawmen. And condescending seniors who write condescending blogposts about them (“you think you know it all, don’t you,” Sometimes, unfortunately, I do; at least just a little bit more). To clumsily paraphrase Spivak, who says the subaltern is by definition silenced and speechless; if s/he can speak then they cannot be a subaltern, the freshman cannot be truly understand seniorangst because such things have not happened to them yet. If they have you aren’t really a junior anymore. The senior is simply the junior who has been blasted by more deadlines and life experiences.
“These are the days which must happen to you” – Walt Whitman
And until they do, you simply cannot understand. I couldn’t understand the intents of my seniors anyway, which earned the deserved amusement of Varun the other day.
“Told you so,” he smugly (but not unkindly) said as we discussed his attempt two years ago to dissolve the Houses as formal entities. I still don’t agree with him there, but I begin to see his arguments in painful clarity now.
Essentially this imagined “Senior-Junior Divide” heals only when juniors become seniors. And one becomes a senior only spending enough time in the meat-grinder that is university, both socially and academically.
“That’s the duty of the old, to be anxious on behalf of the young. And the duty of the young is to scorn the anxiety of the old.” – Philip Pullman
“Not Bitter. Just Tired”
And finally: weariness. There is a bone-deep weariness. I don’t know if it’s from the late nights recently catching up with old friends (yea, seniors can still retain some atavistic features, like late night HTHTs). I don’t know if it’s from the stress of the impending HT proposal deadline, gnawing ceaselessly at my nerves. I don’t know if it’s from the disappointment of defeat, and not really wanting to be a political pundit anymore, over-analysing “why so” or “what if” in the absence of any conclusive statistics or opinions.
I don’t know if it’s the numbness and shock of wondering how powerful individuals could vote, and giving up completely on trying to understand the motives of a select, but influential few. As messages of disbelief started to stream in I couldn’t help but be puzzled at my own calm. I think there was a part of me that had given up trying to understand. Not that I expected the vote to go to me. Once I started doing the math, I realised how much like Bernie Sanders I resembled – the lost cause that never really stood a chance against a hardened and cynical elite. But an underdog battle has, at least, served notice to the USP community. It has gotten people to sit up and think a little. So defeat can be worthwhile too.
I don’t know if it’s from the resignation of knowing that I have tried my best, and failed. That I had given measure for measure at the Q&A, both online and in person, but still failed. That despite my best efforts and hopes for the House, people just did not see things the way I did.
[This is certainly understandable, actually, because being the resident Year 4 bitch (“opinion leader”) it is not always easy to win support from people who only know you through your online persona (“you’re actually not so much of an asshole in person eh!” Microaggressions.). ]
I had simply thought that for once, the popular vote could have defied the stacked odds a little. Everyone loves a gritty underdog story, especially me. I had perhaps mistakenly guessed that there was enough goodwill to want to draw this whole House of four years together. Like Seng Chiy had said, UNITAS starts with a U, and we could have been the trailblazers. This evening, there is a certain sense of submission and resignation that perhaps the House is indeed for the people who take part the most actively in it – the ones with the least commitments and the most time. Maybe Ursaia serves most usefully the people who are the happiest and the loudest. I’m not bitter, I’m just tired.
I couldn’t help but think of Atticus Finch when he said those words. I know this entry can be easily misconstrued by the uncritical reader as the confession of an angsty year 4 loser. I am not interested in such simplistic conclusions that people make of me. I am disappointed, yes, but I think that’s only to be expected when one commits seriously to a cause. But there is an inside-exhaustion too, probably comprising a Molotov cocktail of all these factors, and more. How do we know what we ever truly feel anyway?
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Sometimes, when you want to try something truly novel, those advocating for freshness and novelty will step in and say “not this kind”. And so the cycles of change (how oxymoronic a term) continue to spin, like the Level 9 washing machines, which never accurately tell you how long they are really going to take to make your dirty laundry into nice-smelling ones.
To the old newness that has defeated me, I wish you all the best. Perhaps the young, foolish ones remain the best dreamers and doers, not the careful, weathered hands. Again, it is time which will supply the answers. It gladdens me to see that there are still noisy, passionate people out there who will not stint from trying a little unkindness, from daring to be critical, curious and engaged. Not all of USP has mutated to feral, awkward care-bears, at least.
But a part of me, and I think, a part of Ursaia, cannot help but feel like we have lost a grand opportunity to perform a crazy experiment, befitting the finest traditions of our Programme. For a brief moment, there was a vague possibility that more, so much more, could have been done. We return to the patterns established for the sixth time running: the freshman House Captain; the fifth male House Captain of Ursaia, promising many things; calling for House identities and House cohesions. As the third Ursaia Captain I wish him the best, knowing the road ahead is going to be unsteady and unstable, tumultuous even. But that’s all part of the adventure of leadership and growing up; of talking to people and hoping for the best. I watch with interest and curiosity at how yet another cycle of the Green Wolves will play themselves out, this little mountain in the tiny molehill community called USP.
Little plastic Mega Charizard can only watch on now, and hope that the great paper Charmanders of this cycle can deliver on their grandiose visions.
I’m not bitter. After four years, and at the tail end of this amazing gambit, I think I’m just tired.