Happiness versus Contentment

What would you say is the best or worst thing that has happened to you in the past week?

In the past week – wow, that’s really narrowing down the time frame. Okay, this is totally random but it reminds me of my boss, who asked me what I did over the weekend and I told her I couldn’t remember because I had spent the whole time thinking about my thesis. TW0gpWyZQjKo+6+OkLFmhg_thumb_864She said that it would come back to me once I started talking. I did celebrate Galentine’s day with some friends. One of them, I’ve known since freshman year. Her name is Emily and we’re very different people. She’s the Night Man to my Day Man. But we’ve remained friends through all this time – somehow, I haven’t scared her away. It was a good time. Playing music with friends has also been a good thing. I feel like I can’t have a best or worst so much as just some goods and bads. I’ve had some low points in this week, too — some emotionally draining stuff to deal with and process. Some of my friends are getting hit pretty hard with things, too, so that’s always hard. I don’t know if I answered your question, but it’s always a mix.

That’s true, every week is always a mix.

Yeah, every week is the best week you’ve had and every week is also the worst week. It’s kind of weird, but that’s how I feel. It’s really good, but it’s also bad – and that’s okay. That’s just life.

I agree, I feel like life would be more boring if it was just one way the whole time

Not that I’d want to just suffer. I think it’s good when you’re content. Actually, one of my favorite artists talks about this a lot and I also talk about it with a professor I’m close with – you know Linda, right?

Oh yeah. She’s the best.

Yeah, so we were talking about this idea of happiness versus contentment. Because of course it’s good to be happy, in the moment, and full of excitement and exuberance. But contentment is more valuable because it lasts. Then, you’re comfortable with who and what you are.

Do you consider yourself a content person?

Well, I’m young, you know, so I’m still pretty shiftless. I don’t know where I’m going to go. I don’t have a defined direction. I have a lot of possibilities, a lot of supportive people in my life. But I don’t know if I’m at that point yet. There are things that make me feel content but there’s so much that’s always still unknown, so it’s hard to tell, a hundred percent.

Yeah, especially I’m sure that right now, at your stage in life, you feel like you’re at the brink of many possibilities.

Yes, my wizened self approaches the finish line. There’s so many possibilities and so many things to do so it’s all feeling very unlimited.

So, you said, earlier, that you were playing music. What kind of music were you playing?

I was playing a cover, when I was playing with my friends. For a while, though, I didn’t really consider myself a musician. Everyone else seemed more talented than I was. I felt like I didn’t have a right to play music, but I mean, who does? That’s such a weird, limited viewpoint. But I just felt really small and self-conscious. I think everyone does, to some extent, about one thing or another. I’ve always liked folk songs. The idea of oral tradition, the act of passing it down through singing and chants, has always been very interesting to me. Not that that’s the kind of music I play. But still, when you play music, it’s a narrative and it’s also a way of processing the world around you. So if you decide to sing about it, it helps you work through your thoughts better. I was always drawn to musicals as I was growing up, so I believe that’s part of it. In musicals, when the characters can’t talk or express themselves in other ways, they just sing. That’s the whole point of musical numbers—they’re so overwhelmed with emotion. I don’t know if that’s a weird way to approach it or not. But when I feel too much, I just sing about it or write a song, and just see how it goes.

What instrument do you play? Or rather, instruments. I don’t want to limit you to one!

That’s what I was thinking. Well, I play the piano. That’s where I have my formal training. But then, I was that edgy fifteen-year-old kid who was like “oh yeah, I’m going to pick up the guitar and learn all these chords!”  I couldn’t bar chords for the longest time, though, so I was that one person who only plays four chord songs. And that’s okay. That’s fine. Then, one summer when I was doing field work with a friend, he had a ukulele. And I thought to myself, “I can just pick this up.” So I was building my confidence with music. I also sing, just because it’s nice. I really believe that everyone can sing and it’s just the rare person who can’t. It’s such a wonderful way to express yourself – just to sing, with passion in your heart. That’s what I like about it. That’s good enough. You should be able to express yourself and connect with the world around you. I’m not going to be like “oh, you’re not formally trained or classically trained or whatever, you can’t sing. Get out of my town!” No, not here.

I think that’s some of what I like most about music. First of all, there’s the connections that you can build with other people because music is often such a communal experience. Also, there’s the ability it has to express your emotions and convey them in a meaningful way.

Do you play an instrument?

Yes, I’ve been playing the piano for quite a while, but that’s the only instrument I’ve been formally trained in. But right now I’m taking voice lessons.

Oh, that’s so cool!

I’m trying to build up my voice. I’m one of those people who really likes to sing but I know if I had better technique and everything, I would probably sound better.

I like that! Taking the initiative to train yourself  — it’s like you’re telling yourself that you know you’re pretty good but you want to intentionally do better.

Exactly. But moving on, when in your life would you say that you felt most free?

Oooh. I’ve often considered what it means to be free to be yourself. How you can express yourself, and be yourself to the fullest capacity. Last summer, so the summer before this year, I was working up in Delaware, subletting from someone, doing the whole 8-4. Because you know, 9-5, psh, everyone does that. It was 8-4 and the office locked down at 4:30, so you pretty much had to be out of the building – preferably before then. They didn’t want to come find you. Especially because I worked in the basement. That’s just a common theme in my life. Every job I’ve had so far has been working in the basement. It’s pretty funny. But it was just nice to be making a living wage and living with people in a house. I could buy groceries and go out when I wanted to. I didn’t have a car, which in the States is pretty limiting, because you can’t drive and don’t have access to a personal vehicle, just because of the way our transportation is set up. Unless you live in the cities, in which case, it’s a little better, with trains and such. But I would bike a lot. I went hiking with a friend because I reconnected with a friend from high school. We walked to Pennsylvania, which was a fifteen mile hike. It was a fifteen mile round trip – I don’t think I could have done fifteen miles one way and a thirty mile round trip. I mean, I’m fairly strong but that would’ve just been a lot, physically. But it was just nice to say “oh yeah, I’m competent enough to get my own schedule to work. People trust me with research and trust me with these responsibilities. I can have a job and I can pay my rent.” I find it very liberating to be my own source of income.

I guess in a broader sense of being free, I felt free when I came to school. People were actually interested in getting to know me as a person. They would say things like “I like this about you.” Or “I like being around you, you’re an interesting person.” That was very different from high school and growing up. I can tell, because it’s hard not to. High school just has a – I don’t know about you, but had a big negative impact, in a way. But I made it to William and Mary somehow and I’ve been inching my way through.

So do you like hiking and stuff? Do you feel like you can connect to nature?

Oh yeah. Even when I feel disconnected from people around me – not in a bad way, but it’s just how I am that sometimes it emotionally feels easier to be isolated. I’ll just go out into the forest and spend time with nature. I like hiking because it’s very fulfilling and gratifying. You can see step by step how you’re making your way through a place and there’s some kind of reward. Because sometimes you’re at the Rec doing the same routine over and over and that can be rewarding in some ways, but there’s something about hiking. One time, we were in the Blue Ridge for a Geology trip, just going down Bull Run trail. And even going down and coming back up is such a great experience. It’s a great feeling because you’re like “I can do this! It might have taken me forever and I might be dripping with sweat but I did it. There’s proof that I can do stuff like this.” It really makes you feel better because you’re like “wow.” I mean, I can feel pretty helpless about a lot of things so it’s so nice to have confidence and realize that ‘yes, I did this.” But yeah, I love nature.

Yeah, when I’m out and about I really feel like I’m connected with something that’s bigger than myself. It anchors me, in a way. Do you think rocks have souls? Because I have to ask you this since I’m a Geology major and so are you.

I don’t know. That’s such an interesting thought. Because most people would say they don’t really think rocks have souls. But I would say yes. When you learn about how things are constructed and how they’re made, it’s hard to believe they couldn’t. Yeah, I feel like they do souls. Maybe that’s just whatever makes sense to me. But I think so.

What idea of a soul are we talking about?

Oooh, that’s true too. I guess a soul in the sense that it’s a connection with the universe. I don’t know if that’s a valid take of the soul.

Is there any invalid take?

I don’t think so, personally. But I think of it in the sense that we’re all connected in this universe. The idea of the soul as spiritual value. There’s something really beautiful about this planet and the world that we live in. I don’t know if I like the phrase “we’ve been given” because we’re all part of the world. So it can’t really be given to us. I guess I mean “given” more in the sense that we should be stewards of it because we have the capacity to understand the consequences of our actions. We should be charitable. The whole idea in any of Miyazaki’s works, about the connection with nature, really expresses that well. Do you think rocks have souls?

You know, I’m not sure. It’s very interesting to me to think about that because personally, I believe that souls exist. Maybe rocks do have a soul because they’re going through a constant process of creation and destruction and moving into something new, just like any living thing is. So why not?

Yeah, I don’t know. I think I’m going to have to chew on this for a while. I have a new question to ponder on.

Speaking of rocks, did you always want to be a Geology major?

Well, that’s such an interesting story! I’ve had this conversation with a few people recently enough, so I have some kind of idea. I guess the short answer is no. Maybe in some way – like I was always drawn to nature and geology. But I never really knew it was an option or choice that I could have. Like geology—what is that? But I was born in Rockville, Maryland, which is a hilarious fact. You know, you’re just pulling out geology people and they’re all like “hehehe, you’re from ROCKville?” It’s always been my one-sentence blurb. “Well, I was born in Rockville, Maryland, so I guess it was always my destiny!” you know, if I wanted to write a coming-of-age novel or something. It was after freshman year and I was a lost, tormented soul, like everyone is when they turn 18 or 19. Honestly, I still am. I can say that. I’m old. It’s fine.

That’s not very encouraging!

No, I’m just joking. Mostly. I was in a place where I was like “where am I? Who am I?” I had taken a lot of science classes, but I decided to try taking a geology class. I really didn’t care anymore. I took the intro class with Linda – over the years, we’ve had a lot of history together. I was sitting in class and realizing that I had learned about these topics conceptually and theoretically, but all of a sudden it all made sense. Nothing had made more sense than this class in college. In the middle of the course, Linda asked in class if anyone was interested in becoming a geology major. I was too shy so I kept my hand down, but after class, I told her that I was actually kind of interested. She was like “yeah, I can see it in your eyes.” She gave me a tour of the whole department and introduced me to a lot of people. It seemed like everyone was laid-back, which was really neat. So at the end of the course, I signed up for Mineralogy with Doc Otis. He gave me an override into the class, actually. They were all very supportive and encouraging. They’d see stuff that I did as important. Instead of saying “oh wow, you have such an average, almost low grade in Chemistry” they would say “oh wow, you’ve already taken so much Chemistry and math? Most of our majors are still working on that!” It’s a really supportive environment if you’re willing to put yourself out there. If you’re willing to engage, you’ll be met with that. The professors are great, so my interest in the department because of the people. But the subject material is also fascinating. I love to casually chat about it, probably to the dismay of my friends. I was joking  with my professor about the “natural selection of friends.” Whoever listens to me talk about my research, stays. Whoever doesn’t, goes. It’s a joke, though, because all of my friends listen to me talk about my research. They’re all very sweet people. I’m very fortunate.

What do you like most about your research?

I like that it stirs up my emotions. I have strong feelings about it. It’s something I get really passionate about. Sometimes, it drives me crazy but that’s just part of the ebbs and flows of life. It’s cool because I’m working with patterns I’ve found in the real world and there’s real implications to it. Since I’m working with marine geology and coastal systems, it’s easy to see my research in the context of the present day. It’s also nice to be treated like a professional, like my research is real and not just some little project. It’s another way of approaching the world, too. It is very stressful, but I think I would say it’s a worthwhile experience. Because you’re studying with professors, you get incredible mentors to learn from. And absorb their power.

Books are real!

No, really, that’s a joke among my friends. Instead of getting set back by events, we just say that even if these bad things happen to us, we can only become more powerful. It’s just a joke because we all definitely read too many fantasy novels as children. But I seriously think that if you can joke about your life, see the humor in things, that’s great. Otherwise, it’s easy to feel –not despair, despair feels like a strong word – but it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

Well, you brought this up so…what is your favorite fantasy novel? Or what was?

Oh, man! That’s so tough!

That is a hard question, yes. I would be so mad if someone asked me.

I have to dig through a lot…let’s see, I really love the Chronicles of Prydain a lot. They’re a series of children’s books by Lloyd Alexander. They’re fabulous because they’re all based on Welsh mythology. That’s what comes to mind, but there’s probably a lot of other books, too. I read a lot as a kid. I don’t think I can remember half of the books. I wish I had kept a better log of it. But some stories still stick. Do you have a favorite? I’m getting back at you with this question.

Oh my god. This isn’t fair.

It’s hard. You probably want to tell me “oh, you can get back to me on that.”

Yeah, exactly. Well, a lot of the times I say Lord of the Rings. I think part of that is because I read the Hobbit in fourth grade, so it’s the fantasy series that has stuck with me for the longest. Maybe that’s why I say it’s my favorite.

It’s really hard to pick a favorite because all of them have a different influence on you. It’s because the story makes you feel a certain way or connect to something or has been there for the longest time.

Why did you read a lot?

My mom taught us how to read when we were kids. This was when we were very young – even before school. It was easy to learn, some kind of phonics. I thought learning phonics was so much fun as a kid – I really enjoyed learning how to read. I was more withdrawn and loved reading all these stories. It was like a safe space for me, or like a dreamland, a very idealistic sort of place. I always believed that if I walked out of my neighborhood and kept walking, I could eventually be in another world, or swept off the road into some adventure. There was always the possibility of encountering the wonderful and the bizarre. That’s what I liked a lot about books. It felt easier, sometimes, to connect to characters in stories more than other people. Because it can be tough growing up. We moved a good amount for not being in the military, so there was a lot of movement between environments. But stories can be a constant and give people stability or allow them transcend whatever is happening through characters. Good characters and good stories will stick with you across all times. There’s a kind of universality.

Sometimes when I reread a book I used to love, it feels like coming back home in a way.

Yeah. There’s something so comforting about it, because all kinds of stuff can change as life goes on, but then you have pieces of memory to return to. That’s a really good way to put it.

Well, you were talking about how you often felt like you could go to other worlds, so I have to ask – do you think aliens exist?

Yes. There’s so much out there we don’t know about, so there’s a very likely chance that there is alien life. Just hanging out, waiting around the next corner. I love Star Trek – just the idea of it struck me, even as a kid – so I would always try to calculate if I would be alive for First Contact. I might be eighty-four when they come, but maybe technology will have advanced enough that I’ll still be pretty active, and they’ll take me with them. I’m just holding out for 2100, is it? Something like that. I can’t remember.

I think it’s sometime around 2050. Maybe a little after that.

That would make a little more sense. Especially in terms of trying to stay alive.

I’m actually also a huge Star Trek fan!

Oh, good. I’m so glad to hear that. I love that show. I mean, field geology is probably the closest thing to it. After all, a lot of Star Trek is essentially field geology on other planets.

That would be so awesome. Chuck’s Planetary Geology class was really cool to me, but actually being able to go to the field on other planets…

Yeah. Just wow. That would be really great. I’m just thinking about that right now. Oh my goodness, I just want to be able to transport myself there right now.

What position would you want to be?

I don’t know. I always thought science officer was really cool. But I think I’d be able to be on the command track, now. I’m a lot bolder. Not in a bad way. I do boss people around sometimes. I like the idea of being in charge and keeping a ship running. Trying to keep everyone alive and maintaining diplomatic relations. That feels so fascinating. And just in general, Star Trek is very nostalgic to me. My cat is named “Tribbles,” so you can tell how big of a fan I am. I still think very fondly of it. I felt a stronger connection to it in middle and high school but I still love it.

So do you think humanoid aliens exist?

You know, I don’t know about that one. The jury’s still out about it. I mean, they could exist. Who knows? Who am I to say? But it’s definitely fun to speculate about.

Yeah, I mean, maybe they’re trying to talk to us but we just don’t know how to connect with them.

Maybe we’re already being contacted by aliens, as of this moment, but we just don’t have to capacity to understand it.

Exactly. We still don’t understand everything about the consciousness of plants or the deep ocean, and that’s on our planet. So who knows? I think about that a lot. Like, can you actually talk to plants?

I think you can absolutely talk to plants. I’m just going to say it. I’m going to definitively assert that it’s possible to talk to plants. And we all should. Because they need our breath. It helps. They’re not going to be like “ewww,” they’re going to say “aw, yeah!”

I hadn’t ever thought about it that way before! So I know you have a radio show. How is that?

It’s something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time. In high school, I somehow got roped into the job of doing announcements. I don’t even know this came about. But I just thought that I could definitely be on radio, because I have the right sort of personality. People joke that I have a face for radio, but when I think about it I really feel like it’s true. I’ve loved the idea of making playlists since forever. And I’ve done it for a while which is a whole different narrative in and of itself. I wanted a show, and I have friends who were involved in radio since the beginning of time. But I felt really discouraged freshman year because I told people that I had thought about getting into radio, and someone just told me I shouldn’t even bother because it was really crowded, and that I probably wouldn’t even get a show. And I’m a sensitive person, so I thought they were probably right. I didn’t have ability to stand up and say that I thought they were wrong and fight for what I was interested in, anyways.  I just thought they were right and decided to give up. I had a friend, though, who had already graduated. She would always encourage me and tell me to try. She helped me realize that was something that I really wanted to pursue. And then last year, I just had so many friends who were involved. So I told myself it would be a great way to hang out with my friends and learn something. I soon got over my fears of old and having my choices judged. I started to feel like it was alright, like I could hold my own and do this. All the people there were really nice and I felt more like it was all on me. I just had to grow as a person before I could realize what I wanted to do. And sometimes I look back and think “man, if I could just redo my whole path, I really would.” I would do a lot more. I would change a lot. But you know, I’ve made it out okay. So I can’t complain too much.

I guess, then, my last question is, from where you’re standing right now and how you feel, what message would you have for the world right now?

Spend more time with the people you care about. Life is strange, and sometimes you don’t get any closure. Tell people you care about them. Tell people how you feel. It feels kinda weird and just kinda strange and I know a lot of folks just aren’t into that. But it’s just important to me because I’ve lost people that I cared about. And I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye. And that just gets to me. So even if it seems a little dorky and strange, it’s to my friends. So I always tell my friends “hey, I really appreciate you being my friend,” and thank them for the help they’ve given me. Just little things. And empathy, too. Always assume that people come from a good place. Try to make that your default. Even if they’re not, just try to see it that way. It’s tough. But not everyone has been afforded the same opportunities and privileges, or the same knowledge, so there’s a chance that they really don’t understand. So, yeah…that was kind of a long one, but there it is.

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