Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"I’m pretty good at farting."

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I’m pretty good at farting.

That may seem repulsively immodest, but it needed to be said. My farts leave my body so swiftly and so silently, that they often go unappreciated. That is, until smelled. But at that point, the only experience is pain—leaving no recognition for the great control exercised by the man who dealt. It’s really unfair, and it has left to me to toot…my own horn.

Yet there is one place in the world where my skills are rendered completely worthless: Winthrop House’s library. Every time I study there, in between the stacks of old stuffy books and underneath the portraits of old stuffy white people, I can’t help but make a very distinct farting noise whenever I pass gas.

After some experimentation with positioning (standing up), I’ve found that the secret is in the chairs. Each seat is one of those wooden, black Harvard chairs with the brown arms and gold seals. These are crafted in a specific way to suddenly turn hot air into a powerful vibrato. And it’s not only me—I’ve seen it happen to others when I’m there, resulting in a shameful retreat from muffled laughter into the cold, Cambridge night.

After years of honing the mature skill of the silent fart, everything comes undone in just a few seconds of butt-cheek buffering. Middle school embarrassment and awkwardness returns. And at the very root of it lies Harvard’s oldness and prestige in the form of its chairs.

This Harvard-induced regression got me thinking about how far I’ve come and not come since middle school. Like middle school, a lot of social interactions at Harvard are awkward. Many chalk this up to differences in backgrounds between students. But I also think there is another source to it—the variety of ages we portray.

According to the American Psychological Association, our generation is hitting puberty at younger ages than ever before, but we are also becoming socially defined adults at older ages. Thus the “in-between” zone of adolescence has grown. This brings us to the great collegiate paradox: College is a socially sanctioned time to make your last mistakes before adulthood, but it’s also the time to start growing up. And I think among the Harvard adolescent population, there is more “adult” than average, which brings out a lot of the awkwardness lurking in the paradox.

Let’s start with speech. Most of my friends from home don’t know “adult talk,” and I still struggle with it too. Growing up, talking to adults is boring, confusing, or painful. Talking to kids about kids things is much better. At times, it is similar here, as I talk to my friends about the finer points of masturbation or Dragon Ball Z. But then those friends go off and interview Bill Gates for a publication, work together with Harvard professors on research, schmooze a guy at a big law firm, and so on. And then later we may even talk among ourselves over dinner on “adult” topics like gun control, philosophy, hipster culture, masturbation, and so on again. The result is that on an email list, at a meeting, or at dinner, there are times when you want to joke around in a childish way, but it’s hard to tell when it’s offensive to do so or simply the wrong time.

Another adult aspect is self-driven hard work. Whether it is to do well in school, make a lot of money, make change in the world, or make a lot of money, we work hard at it. Normally you push a kid to study, but kids here are not content to be pushed. Whether for inner or outer incentives, Harvard students push themselves and work hard to the point where mental health becomes an issue. And when norms come up like complaining about work, we can interpret them as childish, veiled brags or a masked way of “reaching out” that can have serious, adult consequences. Distinctions become confused. Things get uncomfortable.

This strange dichotomy between adult and kid also seems to manifest itself in Harvard’s age and prestige. The irony of young people “innovating” at a place known for being old has its consequences, especially in the oldest student groups. The main humor organization on campus—the would-be center of the school’s immaturity—is also known for its past and pre-professionalism. Harvard frats-that-go-by-another-name serve as centers for parties and fun, but are also known for their histories of well known, respectable men. And at a certain old newspaper, a columnist even writes like a kid but resorts to using “adult,” pretentious terms like “vibratos” for farts.

All these examples show that we are growing up, and quickly at that. At a place known for its great age, Harvard students grow older not only while at their school, but also because of it. Still, I don’t think any of us consider ourselves completely mature adults—not yet. So there is a strange lag that persists. That’s probably not a bad thing, though. There’s bound to be some discomfort in transition.

But as I write from Winthrop Library, on a full stomach, I encourage people to appreciate that fleeting child inside for as long as it stays. Because it too shall pass, and we’ll be left wondering where it came from and where it went. For now, I just hope me, and the people immediately around me, enjoy it while it’s still here.

Dashiell F. Young-Saver ’16, a Crimson editorial writer, is an English concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.


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