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Word from the Wise: Nina Gold

By Denebola
Published: September 2008

I used to conclude every English paper I wrote in high school with a brief philosophy of the human condition and a piece of advice for its betterment.

I felt particular insightful while analyzing JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. The essay I wrote ended something like this: “Holden Caulfield is more than a somber individual on a search for his identity; he is a powerful symbol of the melancholy that society itself must seek to avoid. Seek to avoid, how ominous. I am not afraid to take on the big issues, I used to think as my fingers thundered across the keyboard.

At 21 years old, it’s plain to me that I was not actually a groundbreaking philosopher but a self-important teenager. Here are a few things that I have learned since high school:

1) Abstract ideas are rarely as meaningful as tangible details.

2) Using the words “society or “mankind is a cop-out.

3) I was not meant to be a writer.

I learned the first lesson in the summer after my graduation. At that time, I thought my destiny was to become a journalist. I gave up on literary philosophy and became hungry for “slice of life stories’€those rich, delicious wedges carved from the lives of ordinary people.

I relished the idea that I could turn up at a rodeo, historic pizza parlor, or stately mansion and write about the people who loved these things.

After reading writer Lillian Ross’ memoirs and a few great New Yorker features, I believed my truth would be found in the world’s lovely nuances.

The second lesson was learned in my freshman year at Colby College. I was immersed in readings on African-American poetry and Spanish culture.

My new friends were quibbling about Malaysian culture and the lives of transgendered people over dinner in the dining hall. Soon I realized that what I had been calling “society referred only to what I knew, a tiny faction of other middle-upper class Caucasian adolescents from suburbia. I also found out that I was unqualified to give other people life advice, in writing or otherwise.

The third lesson was the most difficult. When I wrote in high school, I truly believed that my words were weighty and unique. After completing my essays, I would envision them riding off into the sunset or marching toward a hero’s welcome in my teacher’s arms.

By senior year, I was investing almost all of my time in journalism and English. But by the beginning of my sophomore year at Colby, I had nearly stopped writing altogether.

I had many reasons, but one stands out. My classes and friends were teaching me that many of society’s simple treasures were complicated by conflict and pain. Writing about pizza parlors no longer seemed as significant.

I still wanted to meet people and experience all the ways that a life could be lived. I decided that my writing skills would not be enough to make change. I set my sights on medical school. I threw myself into my work and stopped nagging Holden Caulfield for dragging down humanity.

Now it is my senior year of college. My coursework has been quite different than what I imagined it would be when I graduated from high school. Catching up in the sciences has certainly humbled me.

I still can’t resist one final paragraph of pontification. My grandiose conclusions about literature and humanity make me laugh now’€but in a strange way, I think I have not changed.

My words may not have been influential, but maybe my intentions were. I believed that the purpose of writing was to contribute something to others. I still feel that way about schoolwork.

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