Living in the Fish Bowl

“RA’s live in a fishbowl,” people tell you over and over. We…live in a fishbowl? Are RA’s aquatic, wriggling, gooberfish with round flat eyes, propelling ourselves around with our ancient paddle mechanisms, sucking tiny flora and fauna off of our closest friends and family? Do we nibble pellets that drift lazily, like feathers, through enclosure water, do we live in the dentist’s office?

fishbowl

RA’s are like fish in a fishbowl if the fishbowl were to be in the ocean, and the other fish look up to the bowl-fish as a moral example. And the fish in the fishbowl just CHOOSES not to leave the fishbowl because there are SOME things a fish can only accomplish from inside her fishbowl. 

I think I’ve made my point.

What I’ve been thinking about lately is how performative my personality has become. I am always looking at myself from the outside, representing myself in my mind with an image of myself from the outside, and not a mental map of my internal space (as I used to).  You’ve probably heard the saying, “fake it ’till you make it.” I used to think it was a soulless way to approach life, but I have come to see it as a powerful statement about the malleability of reality and self perception. Act differently, see yourself differently, and you will actually become a different person. Change your image, you can change your reality.  I have a real sense that I am constantly determining who I am. Everyday, I have the chance to decide who I want to be, and what could be better than that?

This kind of ultra-intentional self-image design does not exactly facilitate ‘living in the moment.’  I find sometimes that, even when I am alone, I feel like I am performing. I’m always in the company of a theoretical audience.

There is a sense in which being an RA punishes introverts. Being in a fishbowl strips introverts of their most important time. But more than that, being in a fishbowl robs us of the benefit of time spent unintentionally (for a community that thinks a lot about intentionality, we don’t spend a lot of time recognizing the importance of time spent unintentionally).

For me, being in the fishbowl has stripped me of some of my carefree sense of self.  I no longer give myself permission to simply experience my life–no, I must always be actively creating. I miss not caring about what other people think. I miss doing whatever I want when I wanted to. I miss thinking mostly about my own impulses instead of the ideal way to act in a given situation. I miss seeing myself from the inside instead of the outside. I miss the days when my identity was defined only by my idea of myself that day and not by my impact on a community outside of myself.

It doesn’t have to be this way. I’m trying to rethink what it means to be an RA. I love waking up everyday and trying to BE the person I want to be. But I also want to change the world with who I am.

So the lesson is, be an awesome fish. Show all of the other fish how to be a really awesome fish. But maybe sometimes, you can leave the fishbowl for a while, and bask for a spell in the sheer vastness of the ocean.

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Getting inspired by cafes to make a better kitchen

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Cafes are beautiful places. They are filled with quaint tables, steaming mugs of bitter drink, laptop laden students…I can’t help but feel camaraderie with the baristas and the other patrons from the shared participation of the customer in some of the small work of transporting the drinks, garnishing them to taste, and busing them after one is finished. No matter how many times you visit a restaurant, you will always be a guest. In a cafe, you participate and thus, you can belong.

Sometimes, dorms have a lot in common with restaurants. The dorms are, in a real sense, a service package; students pay exorbitant amounts of money so that they may live in functional rooms and be guaranteed certain benefits and services as a result. Like restaurant waiters, we must listen to our residents and show them how carefully we have listened by being responsive. Often as an RA, much like as a waiter, our residents will forget or not realize how much our work contributed to their experience. Sometimes the tips don’t reflect the effort we put in, or even our successes.

There are many lessons about humility, patience, and dedication that come from the solemn kitchens and dining rooms of restaurants. And yet, when we can, we want the dorm to have the soul of a cafe and not a restaurant. Cafe’s afford their patrons a degree of liberty–the customers may come, may go, may order, may sip, may loiter, may reorder and reorder. But in exchange, the customer will do little tokens of service for the maintenance of the cafe.

It is in this spirit that I have decided to have the plastic dish busing bins in my new kitchen as part of the organization system. 

The rules will be simple; our kitchen will give you its heart. It will be beautiful and full of food and charm and nourishing support, and in exchange it will ask you to gently wipe its counters, to bus your dishes to the bin instead of leaving them in the counter or on the sink, to gather in groups and to wash the dishes with soapy water when they are full.

In return, you will belong.

Why I want to have an entire blog devoted to ‘being an RA’…

It is not an uncommon experience that being an RA will change your life. I, personally, am obsessed with this job. It is one of the most wonderful jobs I could fathom. Imagine this: 19 year old me who has hardly had a job in her life was given 30 residents.  My job was to create an experience for them, and to become an influence on their lives. What the wonderful.

I often say that I have learned more from my time as an RA than I have from all of my classes. In truth, this job has taught me more about life than any other experience I have had. It has allowed me to change who I am; today, I am much more like the person I want to be than I was when I began. I won’t get the chance to live in a house off-campus with my friends, or to be a wild and crazy college student all the time, but in exchange, I have had what I call “my three year life-skills and leadership program” and there is no question in my mind about whether it was worth it.

This job inspires me; it gives me hope; it makes me believe I can do powerful things with my life. I am hoping to share some of those moments of inspiration in the hopes that they may do the same for other RAs.