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I sit down in front of my wooden desk, words flying around me like little yellow butterflies. They follow me all the time as I scurry through Harvard Yard, recoiling from the unforgiving cold. They’re eager to land on a piece of paper, like the old days, but they usually have to settle for a Word document. I usually have an idea for a piece in the back of my mind, bubbling, waiting to burst into existence with these meandering words. It’s perfect timing when I have an op-ed due for the Editorial Board, the best excuse to not do my tedious problem sets and carry on with my thoughts. It feels like it all comes together when I open the word processor, my fingers grazing the smooth keyboard with the words preparing to land.
Then I remember I’m at Harvard, and the butterflies flutter away. The sizzling ideas dissipate and I stare into the screen, paralyzed with Crimson block.
It’s an interesting condition, a special kind of writer’s block that I’ve encountered only in Cambridge, between the terracotta bricks of Wigglesworth Hall and the majestic pillars of Widener Library. The images that once flowed effortlessly congeal. And just like that, the guy who gloated about having strong opinions runs out of things to say.
In any other place, in any other circumstance, I could probably find other writers to sympathize with me. But this is Harvard, this is The Crimson. The old sheet must keep flying, and the never-ending string of fabulous op-eds convinces me that here ideas never clot.
Of course, this is when self-doubt seeps in. Maybe I’m just a mediocre writer, one that only ever thinks about writing but never quite gets to it. Maybe a language barrier impedes my Spanish-wired brain from effectively expressing itself. This wouldn’t be surprising, but I don’t want to wallow in self-pity here; I like to think I’m a good writer. When I write privately, late in the night after ignoring my other work, words flow effortlessly. Whether in Spanish or English, I’m able to create pieces that I like to think are not half-bad.
For my ego’s sake, I’ve come to the conclusion that Crimson block is a result of the highly pressurized Harvard bubble. More than a reflection of my insecurities, Crimson block epitomizes the never-ending struggle of Harvard students’ quest to be the best. I always read the warnings on college admission forms, but I never expected the compulsion to compare to be so real. And so, even with a completion-based comp, The Crimson felt to me like a competition. I hoped to get my pieces published, but that never happened. I would read the magnificent op-eds by fellow compers, and I would understand why mine didn’t get published. Mine weren’t very good. And this realization was the inception of my Crimson block.
It would be ridiculous to ask people to stop competing. In most cases, competition is a positive thing — the fuel of the innovation machine. Citius, Altius, Fortius. Competition and comparison are what make us great in the eyes of the world. Harvard is no different.
Still, in these private writing sessions, I like to envision a completion-based world. A wondrous utopia where we don’t feel the need to be better than the rest. It’s fun to think about, to think of writing about, but the butterflies that are my inspiration still disappear.
I find myself paralyzed by admiration and jealousy, stifled by a fear of not measuring up, and compelled by the impulse to do more. To find a prestigious internship, to do well in my classes, to let everyone know how smart and interesting I am, and to meet new people to compare myself to. I will probably be a better student by the end, but writing won’t be easy. It isn’t for anyone.
More often than not, I sit in front of my screen, desperately trying to pin down fleeting words. Sometimes I succeed and gather enough to write a piece like this one. Some days ideas flow fast enough, and there’s no time for my browser to wander to The Crimson webpage. Still, sometimes I think about my talented peers. I wonder if they must chase down their own butterflies. They probably do. Crimson block is like that.
Diego J. Panzardi ’24 is a Crimson Editorial editor.
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