Fletcher: Living in Liminal Space

by Emily Fletcher | 6/6/13 10:00pm

When I was a child, I had a nagging fear that other people could read my thoughts. I don't know when children first acquire the dangerous and wonderful ability of self-consciousness, but for as long as I can remember, a little piece of me has worried what others would think if they could know my deepest, strangest thoughts. Perhaps this is normal and allows societies to continue functioning by the arbitrary rules that they make up, but sometimes I think these wrinkles in my self-confidence are just another weird facet of my personality.

I was lucky to have an incredible group of close friends in high school, around whom I rarely felt that nagging self-consciousness, but coming to Dartmouth pushed me outside of my comfort zone. I love this College, but the culture of an elite university in the Northeast is very different from my hometown, Seattle, Wash. Seattle isn't quite as crunchy, nerdy and free-spirited as stereotypes suggest, but it's pretty close. I've always taken pride in being thrifty and relatively unconcerned about appearances, and while these traits aren't unwelcome at Dartmouth, they are not nearly as pervasive and celebrated as at home.

During my first few years at Dartmouth, that old undercurrent of self-consciousness returned. But when I had the overwhelming honor of becoming editor-in-chief of The Dartmouth, being uncertain and lacking confidence were no longer options. As it was explained to me, my role required constant cheer. Privately, I was allowed to have bad moments, but I had to be a rock for the staff at large.

Instead of crying when I needed to cry or complaining when I needed to complain, I would turn off the lights to my office in Robinson Hall and hide under my desk. This was the only place where the staff couldn't see me, and it became my island of solitude when I needed a break from the chaos of running a daily newspaper.

In retrospect, this probably wasn't the healthiest way to cope with my stress, but I had trouble separating my role at The D from my personal relationships. I didn't reach out for support at times when a listening ear or emotional validation were what I really needed. I let my need for constant emotional stability at The D permeate the rest of my life at Dartmouth and had trouble opening up to even my closest friends.

I grew as a leader in my role at The D, but I've grown into myself since passing down the editor position in the winter. I've allowed myself to be uncertain, scared and anxious again, and it has helped me feel more emotionally balanced and deal with both the positive and negative aspects of my old self-consciousness.

I've begun allowing myself to cry when I need to and have the hard conversations that seemed so incompatible with being editor. Sometimes it's been messy. With the impending liminality that seems to color all of my interactions lately, sometimes I've found myself emotionally dumping and expressing my uncertainty to whoever seems willing to listen, but it's been cathartic and reassuring as I prepare to leave a place that has made me feel safe and supported despite my periodic self-consciousness and uncertainty.

I will be eternally grateful to the friends and acquaintances who have supported me at Dartmouth and allowed me embrace my quirks. They have seen me through my highs and lows, and they have done so with grace, compassion and understanding. They comforted me when family members died, they took care of me when I was sick and they accepted the pieces of me that were hardest to share.

One of my biggest fears about graduating is leaving things unsaid and experiences untried, especially while I'm surrounded by such a strong support network. This term, I've found myself thinking a lot about a Kanye West line in one of his older songs. He says, "If you admire somebody you should go ahead tell them/People never get the flowers while they can still smell 'em." So while I have spent my senior spring taking as many adventures as possible with my best friends, I have also invested a considerable amount of energy in laying the foundations of new friendships that I want to maintain after graduation. I am ready to move on from Dartmouth, but I refuse to let go of the support network that I have cultivated here.

Senior spring, I felt as if I was riding a fine line between major personal growth and self-destruction, which was probably melodramatic and intensified by a recent taste for angsty music. I wanted to make sure that I maximized my time at Dartmouth with the people I love and admire most. That's why I went to Moosilauke Ravine Lodge for dinner on the only real day of reading period, and why I abandoned the library at midnight the night before my final paper was due to watch a lightning storm on the golf course.

Starting today, I have to reorient myself to life away from my Dartmouth family; the bottom is dropping out, and I don't know how I'm going to react. I know, however, that I will be surrounded by people who validate whatever feelings I inevitably pour out.

**Fletcher is the former editor-in-chief of The Dartmouth. *