Senior Wisdom: Alexander Pines
Written by Bwog Staff
You might know Alexander Pines from Under1Roof or some distant Twitter feud with a fraternity. He’s heading out of New York come this summer, so listen to him wax poetic just once more. It’ll probably be more interesting than Under1Roof.
Name, School, Major, Hometown: Alexander Pines // CC // writing (nonfiction) and American Studies // Kalamazoo, MI
Where are you going? Headed home to Michigan for a couple of weeks, back in the city this summer to work with high schoolers on campus, and in the fall I’ll be (sorta) pulling a Hannah Horvath to write essays and teach at Iowa.
What are 3 things you learned at Columbia and would like to share with the Class of 2020?
1. Family is relative. Sometimes you grow up with your people, sometimes they’re the ones you meet during NSOP, and sometimes it takes a few years. Columbia can be a hard, lonely place for everyone—find spaces and people that feel like home and hold on as best as you can, even if it means that you have to schlep out to Brooklyn or a different neighborhood from time to time because your friends graduated. People can be more generous here than you might expect.
2. Choose classes by their professors. I took five semesters (three of them largely focused on Russian lit) with my Lit Hum professor and have absolutely no regrets. An amazing faculty member is going to make pretty much any subject worthwhile, and you don’t want something you’re super passionate about being ruined by a lukewarm instructor.
3. Growing is messy, it’s weird, it’s uncomfortable. That’s okay. Put yourself in spaces where you’ll do it anyway. For the most part, your only responsibility while you’re here (beyond eating, sleeping, and bathing more or less regularly) is to learn—which more often than not means being wrong about something. Groups like Under1Roof, ROOTEd, AllSex, and a bunch that I’m forgetting right now are there to help you challenge, question, heal, and unlearn/relearn—take advantage of those spaces (and while you’re there, try to start off by listening first). It’s good to be gentle with yourself, but don’t think something like self-work has an endpoint.
(Bonus notes: Go to Bobst! The view is nicer and it’s a good break from campus. And while you’re downtown/doing pre-college shopping, replace half of the unnecessary things from your shopping cart, like a printer or microwave, with a sturdy, waterproof backpack.)
“Back in my day…” We didn’t have a gender neutral bathroom in Lerner, the only headaches about Bacchanal were the morning after, leaving campus cost less than $5 round trip, you had to legally change your name before changing it on SSOL/your ID, and FroSci made the news.
Justify your existence in 30 words or fewer. Again?
What was your favorite class at Columbia? Most of my classes were great. Kate Zambrano, Heidi Julavits, and Margo Jefferson are queens of the writing department, you can’t go wrong. Comparative Modern Fiction with Bruce Robbins first year changed the way I read books, the syllabus alone is fantastic. Liza Knapp is a gem, she’s worth the trek up to Hamilton 7 twice a week.
Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese? Severe lactose intolerance hasn’t kept me from pizza yet.
One thing to do before graduating: A few years back, Cord Jefferson wrote this entry in a long line of “Goodbye to All That” pieces online. In it, he says, “A lot of kids, me included, aspire from early on to live in New York because the crushing smallness of their birthplace pains them. They’re the town faggot or the town dreamer and they stand in their backyards and look into miles of desolation and quiet, knowing with bitter certainty that nobody—at least nobody they think of as significant—cares about them. They feel trapped in a tiny town beneath a massive sky full of stars, and they know they’ll be gone someday. In New York you can’t even see the stars. And not only do you feel like hot shit because of all the big things going on around you, the city itself makes you feel literally large, like you’re living in a filthy dollhouse.” I was that kid, too, spending most of high school in Michigan dreaming of a way to get to this city. Now that I’m leaving it and headed back to the Midwest, I think it’s important to try and remember some of the things that kid wanted to do here that I haven’t. Most of us have some kind of list of Things We’ve Always Wanted To Do In The City, and it’s easy to skip most of the items because “real” New Yorkers (or, probably more often, your friends/classmates) think they’re cheesy. Fuck cheesy, do it anyway. Walk the Brooklyn Bridge at dawn, stuff yourself at Chelsea Market, go to that so-hipster-it’s-mainstream thing in Williamsburg, whatever it is, just do it. You might not be that kid anymore, I know I’m not, but there’s something to be said about honoring who they were just the same.
Any regrets? Of course. There are people I should have stopped and said hi to, times I could have been kinder to myself and the people I care about, situations where I should have taken up less space than I did. There were definitely months where I cared too much about the wrong things, and my bank account would have appreciated it if I’d learned how to cook sooner. And that time I didn’t just pee on the beach at Coney Island one January and wound up with a kidney infection. 0/10 do not recommend.
A fresh dose of institutional wisdom via Alexander Pines