I spent most of my formative years thinking of openers for my college admissions essays.
I had this distaste for those who sought to build Ivy League reputations that was ironic, really, given that I was preoccupied with college in my own right. My internal narrations weren’t just to feed college dreams, though – it was a chance to live as if each arbitrary moment was worth more.
But after I had checked the whole get-into-university box off, I didn’t have anything to dictate my movie moments. I didn’t even have anything to motivate me. Although I always aspired to practice medicine, that dream floated far above me. In reality, I had never thought past college admission.
After joining the Daily Bruin, I latched onto the idea of spending a college career in search of the perfect beginning. I imagined myself living out the ledes of potential -30- columns at every turn.
Along the way, I learned a thing or two about writing that also shaped me. I find that like any good lede, I try to avoid cliches, reject sensationalism and embrace reality. However, a writer should never attempt to extend metaphors.
The reality was that college wasn’t always perfect, nor was my experience at The Bruin. At times, it was the reason for stress and tears. And yet, it was also the reason for much happiness, laughter and love.
I often felt that by pursuing this commitment, I did the wrong thing. I wasn’t the perfect pre-med student: Instead of finding research, I was in the office all the time – and when I wasn’t, my mind was.
At times, this conflict between what I was supposed to do and what I was doing manifested in doubts. One day, after a particularly compelling interview with a musician, I wondered what compelled me to choose medicine instead of the arts. Under the bamboo trees of the botanical garden, I imagined a life in which I pursued something else. A life in which I performed, I painted, I wrote.
On other days, I regretted my overparticipation in the life I had chosen. Although I spent my whole third year sincerely joking about joining the ranks of upper management, when the editor in chief application came out, I found myself considering it. As the desire to apply left, I instead came to resent how little thought I had put into the next step of my future.
I was distracted and lost, and it wasn’t for a short period of time.
As a first year student, I struggled. I wrote little and feared many. I spent much of the year sulking about my own hesitation to express and inability to integrate – it’s funny, if you meet me now, to know what I was then.
After a series of blunders in my personal and academic life that year, I hit yet another roadblock. My Arts and Entertainment editor emailed me one night to clarify my desire to participate in the organization.
Although it’s amusing looking back after years of editorship – how effectively I reacted to his authority – it was horrifying back then. My work ethic changed almost immediately and I learned to deal with the edits and criticism I was so afraid of initially. I was forced to deal with feeling unqualified and uncomfortable.
I suppose there was a deeper problem, though, because the summer following my first year was inexplicably difficult. I didn’t realize I had the capacity to be so anxious, so depressed – to feel so much pain. For many days, I did nothing but lie in bed and think. For weeks, I tried to mobilize but instead ruminated.
In the end, I wasn’t the one who pulled me up by the bootstraps. Gail Acosta, then my assistant A&E editor and now a best friend, asked me to write an article. Then another. And another. I can’t say it fixed me, but the few times I felt okay were as I wrote. It was the Daily Bruin that mobilized me.
The Daily Bruin gave me a space to understand myself. I thought I was at peace with my decision to avoid substance use, but writing a prime column forced me to acknowledge the personal consequences to my decisions that I hadn’t before. Writing gave me more insight to my morality and spirituality than I ever had before.
At the beginning of the end, the shooting happened. It was two days after I had just learned that my aunt had cancer, six days before my first final and one day before I took over as digital managing editor of the Daily Bruin.
That week, I was shaken to the core. I didn’t think I could face the anxiety of finals, much less the internal chaos. It’s funny, though, because I know I didn’t question for a second that I could handle doing my job. I did it – I’ve done it.
And in the end, if I could write this -30- column again, I hope that I could use this lede: Although the Daily Bruin was my greatest obstacle, it was also my coping mechanism.
Baqai was an Arts and Entertainment contributor 2013-2015, Design contributor 2014-2015, Design director 2015-2016 and digital managing editor 2016-2017.