Staff writer Shina Chetti returns with a follow-up to her original photo series, but this time shifts her focus to less wholesome, more personal experiences. Raw, unfiltered, HONY-style confessions (accompanied by photographs) are to follow, so consider switching tabs if you’re at work or around judgmental people.
“Tell me about something that’s been on your mind.”
With the sheer size of this campus, it is entirely natural that we go all four years of undergrad without getting to know a vast majority of the people around us. That in itself is a manageable, and an altogether unsurprising reality, but, seeing it from a different angle, this reality also implies a wealth of stories, moments, thoughts and experiences that will remain unknown to us, simply for a lack of familiarity. That’s what makes snapshots so intriguing, and perhaps, entertaining—a chance to be witness to someone’s insane story, mundane reflections and unvoiced fears. I was fortunate enough to have five amazing (and absolutely insane) conversations with students around campus, completely uncensored, when for a brief moment, I was offered a window into their lives.
As a preface to the first part of this project, it’s probably important for me to explain and perhaps justify the absence of a unifying theme or predetermined perimeter in the stories and anecdotes I’ve chosen to publish here. A lot of these accounts are—for lack of better words—brutally unrestrained, addressing indecorous subjects like drugs, sex, anxieties, and unconventional thoughts and convictions. However, it remains far from the purpose of this endeavor to present a series of extravagant stories for shock-value. The objective of “Columbia on My Mind” was to provide an outlet, or mechanism of expression, through which students would be given control; they were given the opportunity to relay a message or thought that was of significance to them, allowing them to create a personally defined window through which others could observe some of their innermost thoughts and experience from the outside in.
The pairing of stills with uncensored accounts body forth a territory for expression, because the reality of our situation means that on a day-to-day basis, we all actively work at censoring ourselves and keeping the private, private. I wanted to have a diversity in testimony and experience, which is why I gathered a group of people that presented me with all manners of concerns, thoughts, realizations and experiences. It gathered a very honest (unexpectedly so) response, and I suppose this, if anything, is the project’s unifying theme: an unadulterated opportunity for people to tell the world something on their mind—something that matters to them.
“Honestly the whole experience of being at Columbia is just a fucking weird experience. I remember during NSOP, when I went to a frat house with two friends of mine, and us three girls walked in thinking it was just gonna be the brothers. Like, within five minutes of being there, they started snorting out of a glass vial, and used dollar bills and everything to snort. We ran out of there, and that was that. That was really marking as an experience.
“I also worry. I worry about my social life, and I worry that I’m prioritizing my social life over my work. When I was in high school, I didn’t really have a lot of issues with my social life…honestly I didn’t have much of a social life. When I got here, now I’m just suddenly worried. I used to be unhealthy on the work side, but now I feel like I’m unhealthy on the social life? It’s a constant logistical problem, but it hasn’t gotten out of hand yet. There are hella worries that I have, like that all my of my friends are gonna get jobs and I’m just gonna be like ‘wassup’ here chillin. But I had that worry going in. When I found out I got into Columbia, I just laughed hysterically in a corner whilst my parents cried. And kids here are writing books, and doing research, and I’m just sitting on a dock in Poughkeepsie, NY like ‘errrrrrghhhh.’ I did research but I never went back to it. I didn’t get it published.The people here wanted to see my paper but [laughs] I didn’t actually write it. I think I’m probably doing fine. Right?”
“My dream is to be an astronaut. When I graduate I’m going to commission into the navy, which I’ll be doing through ROTC. Actually I have to wake up in four hours, I wake up at five am on Tuesday and Thursdays. This idea of being an astronaut, I’m obsessed with space, you can see it everywhere in my room, and it came from my family and the way that we understand our spirituality, through the stars. We understand ourselves as energy coming from and going back to the stars, in a sense. Me and my dad have written a lot of pieces of fiction around that, which are really just stories that we’ve taken down from my grandfather. Coming to Columbia is me actualizing that dream, like taking my first steps to getting closer to those stars. I’m gonna be a pilot, and then one day an astronaut. That’s the dream. Getting closer and closer to the stars. My dad was also a pilot, and my grandfather was in the army. We are all about pushing ourselves above and beyond, and pushing our communities as well.
“I also had two of my dreams come true this week. I dreamed that I was holding my friend Rachel’s hand and walking through an art gallery, and that night I was at Postscript, and featured my large vagina painting—well, whether you interpret it as a vagina or not is up to you. And it was such a good time, all of sharing art and ourselves. I’ve also had a weird day today, so, I’m everywhere. I gave blood, and I cried, because I had a weird emotional response to the needle pricking my arm, and then I hung out in a café with my friend. That was my day.”
“We had a party to bring the community together, sort of to introduce new people and there were some funny activities, like writing your name out with your ass, things like that. It’s just fun, I aced it because my name’s short, plus I did it in cursive too. We talked about embarrassing stories. Slowly, it started converge into more of a party scene, and drinks were involved, blah blah blah. People started dancing, and I was with a friend, and there’s shots and drinking. I started dancing, doing my thing, and once in a while I feel a tug from him being like ‘yo, let’s have another shot’. And that’s fine, like, I’m doing that and dancing, but what I don’t notice is that this kid is taking shots with every person walking into the room. He’s just being friendly, trying to get to know everyone. By the time I realize it, he’s GONE. I just thought to let him bond and enjoy the group in his way, so I’m just staying out of his way.
“I’m dancing with a friend and I turn around for a spin and I just see him rolling on the floor next to a table. At this point I’m just like oh shit, my friend is literally rolling, what do I do? I wasn’t sure, so we pick him up and the first thing he says is like ‘itsfff lllieet’—he was trying to say ‘it’s lit!’ but he couldn’t. We put him on the couch, and people didn’t want to get involved, and it’s just me and two other people helping him, giving him water, and nobody can understand what he’s saying. One of the girls puts a cup in front of him saying he was going to throw up, but he didn’t look like he was going to, so I’m thinking, let me just hold him upright. She backs away and right away he projectile vomits over the cup and it lands all over my arm. At this point I’m disgusted, like, if you weren’t my best friend, I’d just be done. I just get up, wash my arm, nastily; I’m borderline crying in the fucking restroom, not really, but like I feel terrible.”
“At this point people decide to take him downstairs to relax, we sit him down in a friends room and continue to give him water and feed him bread. He’s doing fine, but he’s going to sleep every 30 seconds, like lying on the person taking care of him. At one point, he’s better, and he’s like ‘I gotta go to the restroom’. The girl helping him is like ‘I can’t do this, why don’t you help him’ and I’m just like, alright, whatever, so I grab his arm and carry him to the restroom and he can’t even stand up straight, so I have to like, help him pee. Like, he did everything himself but I had to hold him up, his waist, and you know how you can hear water hitting water right, like the noise of someone peeing–I’m waiting for the noise but I can’t hear it. There is no shot that I’m not hearing this correctly. After like 10 minutes he turns out, looks at me dead in the face, and he’s like ‘it’s just a fart.’ And this guy is laughing his ass off! And I’m just there like ‘what the HELL am I doing, holding you for ten minutes by your waist, with your dick out, and it’s just a fart!’ I was so mad. We were all losing it, laughing. Eventually he fully went to sleep, and he was fine, and we left and let him sleep there but… yeah that was something.”
“Last semester I would dream about Econ. Well, actually I found Econ so hard so I dreamed about going to a TA after office hours and her being like ‘how did you get this answer?’ being adversarial and me just being like ‘aaaaaaaaaah I don’t know!!’ Today’s been a shitty day for me too, like, I locked myself out in the morning and the class I went to, I was just like drenched from head to toe. I was so pissed I just left 15 minutes into the lecture. I sort of made the decision that, if it’s raining outside, I’m just not going to class. Unless it’s UWriting. There’s always a reason not to go outside. My life is boring other than that.
“Living on our floor, I was just thinking about how amazing it is that we’ve gotten so close. Especially our circle of people, and it’s grown. I feel like we share all that shit that’s been going on in our lives together, I don’t know, I feel like the sophomores are big brothers, and I can go to them with stuff.
“Also my mom wants to visit me, and she’s like ‘I’m gonna sleep in your room’ and like ‘don’t worry, I won’t be a bother; I’ll clean your room whilst you’re in class’. And she wants to go to my classes too. To learn. And she’s like ‘Don’t worry Ines, I won’t raise my hand; I’ll just be in the back’. But still…no one does that. She used to do that with my grandmother to my aunt. I’m just like “erghhh” because I can’t be like ‘no’ but…”
“I’m in a band. Yeah, I’m a somewhat mediocre bass player, in a band with two very musically talented individuals. I’m just rolling with it. It’s mostly this one girl’s project. She’s very popular on campus. I feel like her having me in this is completely forcefully like obligatory, because I happen to be there. I don’t know. It’s cool; she’s like low-key a musical genius.
“There’s one thing, but it’s like something pretty embarrassing, like shit-you’d-only-say-to-your-doctor type stuff. It’s just like, an inability to orgasm. Like, I’ve slept with people and just…zero times. I’ve put way too much thought into it than I should have. I used to jerk like crazy in high school, maybe it’s that, and I’m a big Catholic dude, so for Lent, I’m giving that up, and porn too, and like I’m almost a week in and nothing much has changed. It’s messing with my morale a bit.
Also, I got stood up by a Tinder hookup out in Jersey, and it was my first time using Uber, and I had to walk back from New Jersey back over the Washington Bridge. It wasn’t the wisest of choices. I literally had to use the phone of someone at a gas station. Also, my phone died on the way there.”