Things Fell Apart; The Center Did Not Hold. What Now, Though?

Things Fell Apart; The Center Did Not Hold. What Now, Though?

Complete surrender without my former center doesn't mean that I'm escaping anything, that I ignore life's struggles and give myself to another kingdom. No, it means that this, too, is the voice that takes me one stop closer, towards taking life by the throat.


"Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falconer cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold"

- W.B. Yeats, "The Second Coming"

These words have been uttered, and perhaps changed utterly by the fact that they have often been appropriated to modern-day political contexts. Tony Blair, for example, used the term to decry the risks of populism overtaking Europe. The often alluded to poem has been overused for politics, but it has also been used extensively for famous books in the English language, such as Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. Nick Tabor of The Paris Review called the poem the "most thoroughly pillaged piece of literature in English."

But will that stop me from taking and pillaging from the poem for my own gain? Absolutely not. Because what the "center" is different for each society or each individual person. In 2008, Elyn Saks published a memoir titled The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness, a book journaling Saks's experience through chronic schizophrenia. The center, at a core, is a sense of stability, which is different for each individual.

We all have a center, and we all know the saying to hold onto the constants in our lives that won't change. And what happens if that center breaks down, as has been the case in my life of late? My friends and I have at times likened my experience to watching a home be destroyed by a tsunami, not being able to do anything to stop it, and being left with the pieces after it's done.

Life changes, but as I like to see it, life evolves. In the words of psychiatrist Abigail Brenner: there are "six recognizable stages accompanying any transition: loss, uncertainty, discomfort, insight, understanding, and integration." But first, after the center does not hold, comes a time of unknowing. This is when you find out who you really are peeled beneath all your masks and layers.

I had a conversation with my minister, Stephen, about my recent commitment in surrendering and trusting in the will of God and put him in the driver's seat rather than try control things on my own. There was one question I had fundamentally in my confusion about the quest.

"If I'm going to trust God and put him in the driver's seat, how do I know what God wants?"

The answer I received, from Stephen's response and my own thinking about the question, is that you don't know when you surrender. That's kind of the point, and it took me a lot of pondering and meditation to make my peace with that. I know from my past that God's ways and plans make sense in the future - it just takes time, and takes a whole lot of patience. Above all, it takes belief and faith.

Naturally, the annoying insistence of many believers not only of the Christian faith but of all religions and faiths arises. "Things should be fine, as long as you trust enough. Things should be fine, as long as you believe enough." And I've tried that notion, but it is a drastic oversimplification of any situation of hard circumstance. The fact is that it's okay to be lost, it's okay be venture in the grey area and the uncertainty once that center is broken.

Sure, maybe the center did not hold. Mine didn't and yours might have broken apart too. Our senses of stability gave way to consuming chaos, but now, especially now, being comfortable in the chaos, in the lost-ness of life is imperative. I need to remember the words of one of my more favorite writers, freelancer Brianna Wiest, that "good things tend to happen when you stop trying so hard to make them happen...The work you end up doing in your life is almost never Plan A; it's Plan B, which is what you started doing when you gave up on what didn't come naturally." I find, much like Wiest, that the more I try to do something and force it, the more it eludes me. Also, the advice that comes to "just not think about" something is very counterintuitive - that's all I can focus on.

Without a center, it's tough to force yourself in a direction. After all, where are you going? "Work becomes hard when we have to force ourselves to do it, and we have to force ourselves when it's inherently uninteresting or unappealing," Wiest continues. Her article is oriented on achieving success through a law of least effort, that the best things in life come to us when we least expect them to. I am not a very success-oriented person (and ironically I've found myself the most successful doing so), but she has a point when she says that "success starts with us...We don't have to force it. We don't have to compete for it. We simply have to respond to it."

I would like to echo the words of my peer, Noah Lorey, when he wrote that sometimes he felt in college and writing for Odyssey, that "I feel as if I'm drifting on an open sea." The drifting feeling Noah describes is "not [being] bogged down by a storm or in danger of drowning, just drifting relentlessly. It's a sort of gentle unease." Yes, I'm proud that Noah added to Yeats-ian oxymoronic fashions, as the "gentle unease" rings much like the famous phrase at the aforementioned Yeats poem, "slouching towards Bethlehem."

It rings against my natural inclination of some sort of heroic or even biblical adventure into the promised land. Instead, at all points now, I am just drifting and just slouching towards where I'm going next, and that doesn't mean daily rigors aren't hard or overwhelming. By all means, they are and are still. My internal existential struggles, still, are not very visible to the outside observer and person who engages with me on a daily basis.

Does complete surrender to my high God mean that I lay back and "just chill" as I lead my life? No. There's just another voice now, something in the back of my mind, that comes from the heart, that'll tell me to lay off when I've been too hard or demanding on a friend, that tells me to pursue something interesting my friend shared about their personal life a little farther, that pushes me to explore what I'm doing and what's meaningful more and more.

When Robert Frost was asked if poetry was a way of escaping life, he responded the opposite: "Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat." Complete surrender without my former center doesn't mean that I'm escaping anything, that I ignore life's struggles and give myself to another kingdom. No, it means that this, too, is the voice that takes me one step closer, towards taking life by the throat.

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10 Abnormally Normal Things About College

Some stuff just doesn't fly in the real world.

College is a weird, weird place. For whatever reason, the young adults who are supposed to be cultivating their minds with all of the worldly knowledge available to them, seem to get away with quite a bit using the justification "it's college." Even the best students live abnormally while on the alien planet that is a university. So, while to us college students it may just seem like another day, here are ten things that are only normal in college.

1. Straight up theft.

In the future, if I walk into my forty-something-year-old neighbor's home and see a collection of stolen signs, stuff from the local restaurant, and property from the construction site down the road, I would definitely be concerned about the character of my neighbor. However, in college, people proudly display campus signs, traffic cones, or dining hall napkin dispensers that they have impressively commandeered - it's a cheap decoration and a great conversation starter.

2. All-nighters.

Maybe with the exception of parents of little babies, very few people willingly stay up for close to 24 hours on end. In the real world, if a friend came to you and said that they literally did not sleep the previous night, it's completely logical to be worried. On the other hand, when a friend in college says that he was up all night you laugh a little, give him an understanding pat on the back, and walk with him to the coffee line.

3. Atrocious eating habits.

Sometimes you don't have time to eat. Sometimes you order pizza at 2 in the morning. Sometimes you eat three dinners. Sometimes you diet. All I can say, is thank goodness that our metabolisms are decently high at this age.

4. Breaking and entering.

In high school, you hopefully knew everyone who entered your home. After college, hopefully, that's still the case. However, when you live in the middle of thousands of bored college students, people knock at your door, walk into parties, cut through your yard, and stop by without invitation or hesitation. It keeps life fun, but still not normal.

5. Calling mom when stuff goes down.

I really doubt a time will ever come that I don't need to call my mom for guidance on how to do something. But, hopefully the frequency of those calls with go down a little bit post-graduation. Maybe after four years of doing it on my own, I'll know how to fill out government forms, cook real dinners, and get stains out. But for now, I'm going to keep calling while I still can without seeming totally pathetic.

6. Being intoxicated at weird times.

Drunk at noon on a Friday is the quintessence of an alcoholic at any time - unless it's college. Not that this is necessarily a good thing, and it certainly doesn't apply to everyone, but there aren't many other places where people would instantly assume someone is intoxicated if they're acting even a little weird. I've even seen people drink in the library....

7. The messed up dating scene.

There are people who meet the love of their life at college and live happily ever after. They are people who meet the supposed love of their life at college and never talk to them again after Sunday. There are people who use Tinder. Hormones are high, freedom is bountiful, and football players are cute - what else needs to be said?

8. A warped sense of time.

The career I'm pursuing will require me to be at work by 7 am, five days a week. I am fully aware of this. Now, will I enroll in an 8 am next semester? Absolutely not - I'm not a demon. In college, nights often start at 10 p.m., dinners are eaten at 4, and mornings can begin anywhere from 8 to 2. We don't get that whole 9-5 idea.

9. Costumes... for no apparent reason.

High schoolers have a dress code. Adults have dignity. College students have fun. Here, people will wear a corn costume to get on ESPN, a fanny pack to get into a fraternity, or a tutu to match a theme party. Is it actually a weird thing, though? No one even blinks an eye.

10. Insanely close friends.

Name another point in your life when you live with your friends, study with your friends, drive with your friends, eat with your friends, go out with your friends, and even grocery shop with your friends. I'll wait. At college, it's easy for friends to seem like family because you're with them constantly. Love it or hate it, it's weird about college.

So, enjoy this weirdness while you can - it won't last forever!


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Cover Image Credit: Matthew Kupfer

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12 Unhealthy College Habits That Never Should Have Become Normalized

No, you shouldn't have to pull an all-nighter to pass every exam.


College is a weird time in our lives, but it doesn't have to be bad for our health. Here are some trends I've seen on social media and watched my friends practice that really never should have become a "thing" for college students in the first place.

1. The "freshman 15."

Everyone has heard of the dreaded "freshman 15," where college freshmen gain 15 pounds because of access to all-you-can-eat dining halls. Rather than eating healthier options at the dining halls or, you know, only eating until you're full and not stuffing yourself, we've just accepted our fate to gain what's really a large amount of weight. Not a very healthy mindset.

2. Eating only junk food because we're "too poor" to buy real food.

For off-campus students, the theme is ramen and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. This is really not how it needs to be. You can buy a bunch of romaine lettuce for around $1 at the grocery store I go to in my college town, and other produce like broccoli, potatoes, and apples are always cheap. Shop sales and keep your pantry stocked on staples like dry pasta, rice, beans, and other canned vegetables. It's not that expensive to eat decently.

3. Gorging on food at the dining hall just because you can.

This is what leads to the freshman 15. Just because you can eat whatever you want doesn't mean you should.

4. Procrastinating EVERYTHING.

I'm always ahead of my schoolwork, but all of the people in my classes push things right down to the wire. It creates unnecessary stress. Just get things done in advance so you don't have to worry.

5. Being generally unorganized and struggling to keep your life together. 

Actually using my planner is one of the best things I've done for myself in college so far. I don't know why it became popular for college students to be a hot mess all the time, but again, do what you can to avoid putting unnecessary stress on yourself.

6. Pulling all nighters, ever.

If you don't understand it by midnight, you won't understand it any better by five in the morning. You'll do so much better with less studying and more sleep than the other way around. Take the L and go to bed.

7. Waiting until the very last minute to start studying for your finals.

This is what typically leads to the aforementioned all-nighters. If you have an exam in two weeks, start studying NOW. Give yourself time to figure out what you need to focus on and get in contact with your professor or a tutor if necessary. Do yourself the favor.

8. Getting blackout drunk Friday and Saturday night...every weekend.

A lot of college students like to drink. That's fine, I get it, college is stressful and you just want to have a good time. But you don't have to go out every night of every weekend and drink so much you don't remember anything that didn't occur between Monday-Friday every week. Give yourself a break from drinking every so often.

9. Getting iced coffee before class and being late because of it.

I always make sure I get to campus early if I plan to get Starbucks, which I often do. It's rude to come in late, and it's detrimental to your education to consistently miss class. Your coffee can wait if you're running late. Plan better next time.

10.  Committing to 10 different extracurriculars because "it'll boost your resume if you have more on it!"

If you only participate in one club where you're the head of marketing and the treasurer, that will look SO much better than if you participated in five clubs but were just...there for all of them. Excel in one thing rather than being mediocre in many.

11.  Skipping class whenever you feel like it.

You can take the occasional mental health day, but if you're just being lazy, you're only hurting yourself. Go to class. You're paying a lot of money for it, after all.

12.  Spending every last penny you have to go somewhere for spring break (Daytona Beach, anyone?).

"Broke" college kids always end up taking the most extravagant spring break vacations. I'm sure it's fun and you'll cherish the memories, but wouldn't you cherish that $500 more if you saved it for things you actually need rather than living off of ramen for a month when you get home?

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