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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Column: Meet Norton and Oscar

The only three books that matter in life to me are the Bible, Harry Potter and the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Read all three, and you’re almost set for life. (No, the Bible and Harry Potter are not contradictions.)

Out of the three, I learned this quarter that the Norton Anthology is especially important.

Have the urge to learn about mimeticism? Interested in our suppressed roles in a capitalistic society? Curious about the similarities between interpreting dreams and poetry?

The Norton has (almost) all of your answers – once you find the focus to decipher through the endless paragraphs that desperately scream “edit me!” At least you’ll feel smarter just lugging the anthology around campus.

But it’s that time of the quarter when the freshness of reading about the abstract theories of Lacan and Butler just dies down. This is probably true the second you read the syllabus, but by the last week of the quarter, the passion especially goes away.

You no longer feel cool playing the part of an “intellectual,” but you instead feel the massive chunk of anthological pages weighing you down. This cycle likely repeats each quarter.

A few days ago, a friend of mine gave herself a pep talk for next quarter. You know, like how it’s going to be the best quarter yet with no lecture ditching, procrastinating, oversleeping or anything else that could possibly go wrong in a college student’s academic life. It felt like a ton of effort just listing all the hypothetical habits.

Halfway through the list, I wondered if we would have to go through so much effort if we really were passionate about what we were doing. Wouldn’t you want to do what you enjoy the most?

As I was about to flip open the omniscient Norton for the answers to life’s problems, the Oscars began. Of course, I quickly dropped the anthology and began watching. Most people hate the Oscars because of the earnest, superfluous acceptance speeches that don’t end until the music starts playing, but I watch it exactly for those speeches.

Maybe it’s because winners like to tout their accomplishments, making themselves sound all the more special and throwing in a lesson or two. Discouragement and passion were big, intertwining themes, too. The extravagance is all you need when feeling discouraged.

Sure enough, somewhere between Monique’s “sometimes you have to forgo what’s popular to do what’s right” and Michael Giacchino’s (the composer for Up) “being creative is not a waste of time,” I was inspired.

The people on stage may be filthy rich, self-indulgent and have a questionable sense of fashion, but many of them are also newcomers working their way through the business, waiting for their big break.

Thinking back on the quarterly pep talk with my friend and the doubts we have, I began figuring that maybe you know you’re passionate about something when you put in all the effort toward that thing, knowing it provides a mixture of emotions nothing else can offer.

If you procrastinate on writing papers by writing columns, you know that you’re still writing and that you’ll get to the paper sooner or later. Maybe I know I’m passionate about writing because it not only brings joy, but also doubt and frustration. Because the more you delve into something, the more aspects you see of it. When you first encounter something new, it’s always fresh and exciting – just like when you first start the quarter, you’re motivated.

So although the procrastination and laziness may never fully disappear, the passion (and caffeine) is hopefully what keeps us going. Behind all the dread and the complaints is passion – it could be real passion for your work or it could simply be passion for getting the grade.

But of course, you can’t find all your answers in a single book – not even the chunky Norton can fit everything in.

Just be small. Dream big. Work hard. That’s all that really matters.

TIFFANY LEW was contemplative this week and found this quote from Oscar Wilde: “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinion, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.” E-mail your thoughts to her at tjlew@ucdavis.edu.

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