Culture

Proximity

by Maya Pontone

Illustration by Coco Luan

Illustration by Coco Luan

The first thing I noticed was his height.

Before I had left for school in August, I was used to resting my chin on top of my brother’s head whenever he gave me a hug. But when Carter greeted me at the front door with that awkward side-hug so many 13 year-olds give, I was startled when the scruff of his dirty blonde hair brushed up against my cheek and ears. It had only been three months since I’d last seen him, but in that short time frame, I had clearly missed a lot. Now he was nearly as tall as me.

I can distinctly remember, in the weeks leading up to my first year of school, dreading the changes in my relationship with my family. I knew that while leaving home would give me the freedom to be my own person, it also meant separation from the people I saw every day from my first days of preschool to my last days of high school. As the oldest of three younger siblings, I wasn’t fully aware of the impact their daily presence had on my growth until I realized what my absence during some of the most formative years of their lives meant.

It suddenly hit me that I wouldn’t be there to offer guidance during their awkward middle school years, or to comfort them during the frustrating chaos of high school. Family group chats and phone calls could never replace sitting next to them at the kitchen counter while they struggled with Algebra homework, or listening to them from the front seat of the car while complained about some text a stupid boy sent them, or teasing them in the bathroom when they drunkenly brushed their teeth after their first party. Visits home over breaks wouldn’t just be vacations, but desperate attempts to play catch-up on all that I had missed in my siblings’ lives in the months I had been gone.

I never understood the true extent of everyone’s temporary presence in each of our lives until I realized those closest to me were no longer with me. I always considered my family to be permanent. But in reality, no one is meant to last forever. Regardless of how intertwined our lives may be with others, we are all leading separate lives; this truth can be hard to remember sometimes when we become unconsciously reliant on others’ unwavering presence.

Illustration by Coco Luan

Illustration by Coco Luan

Growing up, there were times when I felt overwhelmed by my family’s close proximity. It did not matter if I fled upstairs to my bedroom or snuck downstairs into the basement—there was no corner of the house where I could escape the noise of my family’s incessant yelling, laughing, crying, bickering, whining, and barking. I didn’t know then how much I would eventually yearn for this chaos when faced with the loneliness of individual silence




Stories and DMs

A Reconsideration

by Matthew Thomas

I experienced a sort of phenomenon the other week, when, lying in bed on a quiet Tuesday night, I numbly tapped away at my phone screen. It was around 11pm, and I had been off the grid for a few hours by that point, so I felt it appropriate to check in on those I knew—and those I really didn’t know at all—the one way I could: Instagram.

We have to consider what Instagram really is: a platform. It is not an extension of reality. Sure, it is a place where we document our lives in photographs. But nowadays you’d more easily find users of the app paranoid about “the grid” (how their photos look and flow together on their feed) than posting authentic, day-to-day material. We manicure our feeds, we don’t bare our souls on them. The only place on the app you might find any sort of soul-baring is on someone’s “finsta,” in which they can be truly unfiltered, only to a safe, select group who after years of each other’s company are not quick to pass judgement. But if our “finstas”—or what I like to think of as digital diaries enmeshed with shitposting—are only available to a limited and private audience, what new connections are we genuinely forming? With this in mind, I always perceived Instagram as a platform for performance, and therefore the last place for real human connection. It was all artifice, ulterior motives feigning authenticity, an artwork where the artist was involving less and less of their true self in the art.

But that night, my mind and heart were changed when I stumbled upon the story of a person who I really did not know at all. We had only met one night the previous semester in which we shared a juul beneath hazy neon lights, and exchanged social media information before parting ways. In this one story, the person chose to be refreshingly candid: there was no performance here, rather an untouched selfie against her bedroom wall, from which a Velvet Underground poster hung. The same Velvet Underground poster that hung above my own bed.

Art by Pixie Kolesa

Art by Pixie Kolesa

My fingers flew to the message box: OMG I HAVE THE EXACT SAME VELVET UNDERGROUND POSTER IN MY DORM. Then, I stopped. Who am I to “slide into the DMs” of this person, who I barely know, about something so trivial as a poster? This could end disastrously. That was when I realized, this poster would never appear in a “manicured feed.” It would never be something fresh or aesthetically-pleasing enough to coincide with today’s modernity, or even our obsession with “vintage media.” I was presented with a tiny, telling thread of information about this person, and that thread would be gone in 24 hours. Only this message box—this place for “DM sliding”—connected us, and it connected us via something real.

I approached my friend Sam to discuss this very trivial yet somehow dire situation. “Should I DM this person? Is it weird? Will they take it the wrong way?” And then he said something brilliant. “Social media, in so many ways that we don’t even really recognize, provides us with nuances—even mundane ones—about each other. It’s not the overt expression, but the little unique qualities about our shared habits [like a poster in the background of a photo] that can really connect people in ways that wouldn’t happen elsewhere.” In short, the story and DM feature of Instagram was (and is) taking a platform so expansive, so manufactured, so (in many ways) impersonal, and re-personalizing it. I finally saw it as media that was authentically social.

I hit SEND and held my breath. Suddenly: a DM notification. A week later, as I traipsed through the dining hall, a voice called out: “Hey Matt! It’s me, Julie.”

We haven’t stopped chatting since.

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