Name, Hometown, School, Major: Maxwell Bertolero. Danville, CA. General Studies. Philosophy and Psychology.
Claim to Fame: That annoying GS kid who asks way too many questions. Former motocross racer and high school drop out. In the future, I hope to be known as the kid who talked about depression, dirtbikes, free will, and drinking whiskey in his valedictorian address.
Where are you going? Well, I bought a white Ford Cargo Van with no windows, and I am packing up my stuff and my dirtbike, and then I am driving across the country with my cosmic brother, Michael Tran, from New York City to Kentucky, through Tennessee, down to New Orleans, across Texas, into Mexico, up through New Mexico, into Nevada, and then, after about 50 pounds of BBQ, ten gallons of whiskey, and lots of questionable decisions, we will arrive at UC Berkeley, where I am starting my PhD in cognition, brain, and behavior through the Psychology department. I aspire to be Sam Harris, Eric Kandel, Conor Oberst, and Bertrand Russell, wrapped into one person, with lots of Nature and Science publications. Please ask me about my aspirations during my 4th year of graduate school, though, and then laugh at me and my crushed dreams.
Three things you learned at Columbia:
Relationships between friends usually last longer than ones between lovers, and can be just as intense and rewarding, if not more so.
A liberal arts education isn’t so much about learning how to think. It’s about learning to control the way in which one thinks…to be able to think rationally and logically even when it leads one to a result that seems grimmer than the result one’s intuitions and emotions deliver. As Achille Varzi explained to me, “learning to use logic frees one’s mind from being bound by one’s limited intuitions.” Fucking pure gold, man.
Most of the things that I was automatically certain of, that I believed so strongly that I never even thought about it on an explicit level, turned out to be totally wrong and deluded. This process was insanely enjoyable, as my worldview is always changing. I hope this process is not over, and that it only ends when I die.
“Back in my day…” This is the ultimate lead-in question to a bullshit-hipster-I-liked-it-/-was-there-first answer. But seriously, back in my day, Bright Eyes’ Fevers and Mirrors record had a 5.4 rating on Pitchfork (it has recently been changed to a 9, which is one point lower than it deserves), and the V train still existed. There. The tone of my answer matches the tone of the question.
Justify your existence in 30 words or less: I have Darwin’s face (and beard!) tattooed on my upper arm.
Is the War on Fun over? Who won? Any war stories? I quickly retreated to the Lower East Side, which is the Sweden of Wars on Fun. The only time my fun was “fought” was when I was chugging a bottle of madeira wine with my buddy Ben Barczewski on the corner of Ludlow and Rivington, and we dropped it right in front of a cop on horseback. The cop asked if I was drunk, and I said “I am drunk as fuck, sir.” He asked where I lived, and I pointed up Ludlow street, and he nicely recommended we go home. We rubbed the horse’s nose and then went north to Max Fish.
Would you rather give up oral sex or cheese? If one gives up cheese, one would only be depriving oneself of pleasure, but if one gives up oral sex, one is depriving oneself and others of pleasure. Try that logic on for size.
But really, call me when you replace cheese with foie gras in this question, so I at least have to think about it for more than 1.8 seconds.
Advice for the class of 2016:
Hang a “?” at the end of everything you believe about the world, others, and yourself.
Sometimes you just have to say “fuck it” and just go for it. It’s in those moments that you grow the most and learn the most about yourself. Plus, as Ernest Hemingway says, “You know it makes one feel rather good deciding not to be a bitch.” Also, be offended by the use of the term “bitch.” But still use it.
Be wary of anyone who would rather correct your grammar than have a good time.
You have an opportunity (Ivy League education / being young in New York City) that 99.99% of people will never have. Don’t fucking waste it, take it for granted, or be afraid to make mistakes. Failing is always better than never trying. You can only learn from the former. Also, cliche statements are usually true.
Research is fun—there is nothing like discovering and creating new knowledge—and professors really will welcome you with open arms if you are passionate.
Laugh hysterically when people ask you what you are going to do with your major.
“If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough…Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you…Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.” David Foster Wallace said that. Read his books, and lots of other books that are not assigned. You can only study so much before it’s pointless and you should crack open a beer or two (or 5) and a book.
Find a way to love what you are learning. Find a way to really enjoy the material. Your GPA and your happiness will improve, and not because having a higher GPA makes you happy. Didn’t you listen to David?
The best professor I have ever had, who changed my life forever, has terrible reviews on CULPA.
There is no shame, only courage, in getting help for mental issues. The brain is an organ, so you should get help for it in the same way you would for any other organ. Also, when your friend is having mental issues, you will want to help them personally, but they need professional help, not a hard night out drinking. Be supportive and encourage the former.
You are surrounded by amazing and intelligent people. Ask them tough and honest questions, and really listen to what they say.
Get tattoos. Just make sure you go to someone good, like Amanda Wachob, and get them in places you can cover up when necessary (for example, your forehead probably isn’t a good location). Then, when people ask you if you will like your tattoo in 30 years, or if it will still look nice in 30 years, ask them the same questions about their husbands and wives.
Grow your hair out long and then get really drunk and shave it all off with your friends. This applies to everyone. Fuck gender norms.
Learn to like scotch (thanks James) and stinky cheese (thanks Kendall).
Just because the bars close at 4am doesn’t mean you have to drink until 4am. But there’s no hell when you die, so…