DD1= Dear First Daughter
Susan Cain on “stretching”
“A sizable part of who we are is ordained by our genes, by our brains, by our nervous systems. And yet . . . we have free will and can use it to shape our personalities . . . We might call this the ‘rubber band theory’ of personality. We are like rubber bands at rest. We are elastic and can stretch ourselves, but only so far” (Cain 117-118). I like this rubber band theory from Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, both because it ascertains that we are fundamentally who we are, and because it affirms the possibility we have of developing – of stretching. I’m annoyed by the, “If you can dream it, you can become it,” type of inspirational message that I have often read and heard. It simply isn’t true. But I’m even less fond of messages to the effect that we’re stuck where we are. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”; “People never change.” So defeating.
The rubber band theory comes into play big time in the avoidance of debt. DD1, who is working on her master’s thesis at a university out west, recently found herself in a challenging situation. She needed to study material that can only be accessed at the New York City Public Library, but she didn’t have the funds to fly to New York. Ever steadfast in her avoidance of debt (See post “A Temptation Back Into Debt”), she started to seek out a solution. She knew that her university provided funding for graduate students presenting papers at out-of-town conferences, and so she checked to see if any conferences related to her studies were going to be held in New York City in the near future. She found one, submitted her application, and was accepted. This month, she flew to The Big Apple.
“The conference was grand even though I nearly shook from nerves,” she wrote on the postcard she sent to us. (Yes, she really did write “grand”.) So it wasn’t an easy ride. A lowly master’s student presenting alongside Ph. D students and professors will certainly be intimidated. But she did it. She stretched. And her trip was almost completely covered by the funding she received to present her paper. “I’ve never worked in a more beautiful place,” she wrote of the New York City Public Library. “I’m finding lots of thesis fodder at the archives & am finding time for some fun too!”
DD1’s “Glee” Moment
Now how is this for fun: DD1 grew up with a boy at church whose singing talent got him a place at Julliard studying opera. When she knew she was going to New York, she contacted him, hoping they would be able to get together. They had troubles connecting through her week there, but on her last evening in NYC, she received a phone call from him. “A bunch of us have just finished our auditions for the master’s program, and we’re going to a karaoke bar. Would you like to come too?” DD1 spent four hours that night singing karaoke with about twenty students from Julliard. The highlight for her was “Summer Nights” from the musical Grease, which she sang with her childhood friend while the other Julliard students did back up. (“Tell me more; tell me more; like does he have a car?”) I’m pretty sure that’s a memory that will keep for her whole life.
We are fundamentally who we are, but amazing things can and do happen when we stretch. And debt-avoidance in our society can be a real agent of such stretching. DD1 is a poor student, and she lives like a poor student – in a basement apartment with two room-mates, taking public transit to get to classes, tutoring and working part-time to make ends meet. Public speaking makes her nervous, especially in new situations. But she’s putting her nerves to the test; she’s overcoming her finances; and she’s living large. DD1 has managed to avoid debt, and in so doing, not only is she setting herself up well for her future, she is embracing a present that is, in the best sense, rich.