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Doodling as a Sign of Intelligence

Old habits die hard

By Al Fernández

High school seems like a long time ago. The days of class for eight straight hours, the flurry of activities that followed afterward, the mornings of waking up at the ungodly hour of 6 a.m.—these are all, mercifully, things of the past.

Harvard, or a place like it, was definitely part of the future I then imagined. In class, dreams of academic recognition and glory were not far behind. My pencil would wander down to the scrap piece of paper that I had torn out of my notebook and begin to draw the same thing I had drawn all my life: Lines that would eventually come together to form a mountain-looking object. And then, in the middle of this bliss, I would be snapped back to the reality of class.

I would be proud of my escapades as I looked around at my classmates. “Look at me,” I thought smugly, “dreaming of places beyond Alamance County, South Carolina. Look at these poor schmucks imagining a life not far beyond the county lines.” I was a visionary, more or less.

And now, when I find myself overwhelmed with Harvard, I am afraid of losing that same vision. It doesn’t matter that I find myself in the place where my dreams used to reside.

Recently, I have once again found myself wandering adrift in the middle of class—like a child staring out the window, dreaming about the possibilities in the undefined out there. I still occasionally hear the sound of a lawnmower, or imagine that I do. Even more, I think many of the same thoughts about my Harvard classmates as I did my high school ones. Nowadays, these thoughts run something along the line of pity for these poor, ignorant pseudo-intellectuals stuck high up on their ivory tower. Harvard didn’t get rid of my high school daydreams–because that desire to be somewhere else still exists, that desire to dream about something bigger and higher.

And yet, there is a part of me that is unwilling to part with that feeling. That perhaps I am meant to dream and desire something higher. I find it difficult to believe that the main reason why I am here is to focus on nurturing and expanding my mind in the narrowest sense of the word. That is why I keep doodling when I should be paying attention to how agent morality fails to fit inside the typical model of moral relativism.

Sometimes, I seem to measure my personal success in how well I can do with paying as little attention to the present as possible. This place is weird like that—it encourages you to dream about the future while making you constantly aware of the importance of doing things now, of not missing out on anything now.

It is not as if it is not feasible to have a one foot on the present and another on the future. It is possible to be a stressed—out college student worried about your next paper while harboring dreams about what life outside of this place holds for you. Perhaps my example is too specific—an indication that my experience speaks more to my own troubles than the problems the rest of my classmates face.

Usually, these pieces are filled with some sort of call to action. To stop doodling and pay attention in class. Or perhaps to continue dreaming and throw all that this institution tells you to do to hell, wrapped in those same scrap pieces of papers. And yet, I can find no answer for this dilemma. To doodle and pretend to pay attention, or simply to pretend?

I know that my drawings have never amounted to anything. While I have seen people beside me create or recreate works of art, my little grassy knolls and weird anteater-shaped humanoids embarrass me upon a second viewing. And yet, they’re just as important a part of my education as anything I learn in class. I don’t view them as a distraction—I view them as my way of trying to process whatever I’m learning and how to relate to the real world.

Oftentimes, as much as I may want to believe it, learning about Aquinas’ argument for the existence of perception does not do me much good. Dreaming about my future career plans as a Very Important Person in a Very Important Place doesn’t do much for me either. The natural result of these two coming together, obviously, is something that looks like it belongs in a bad animated TV show. And maybe the answer lies somewhere in there.

Al Fernández ’17 lives in Eliot House. His column appears on alternate Fridays.

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