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Nights that won’t happen, saying goodbye to Bowdoin

April 24, 2020

About two weeks into isolation, I started watching Hulu’s revival of the 2000 movie “High Fidelity.” It’s exactly the kind of self-referential, music-snobby, Gen Z/millennial television show that is so ubiquitous these days—characters who are unbelievably self-absorbed, yet uncomfortably realistic. A brooding, complicated, emotionally vulnerable female lead, black or racially ambiguous, navigates the same perils of one’s twenties that all the cookie-cutter white men of movies past have, and then some. She negotiates Instagram, dating apps and the other bizarre realities of our increasingly interconnected age while still somehow affording a one bedroom apartment in New York City on the salary of a record store owner. The best and worst of the past and present are wedded together in a way that allows viewers—especially younger ones—to suspend their disbelief and step into the characters.

Rob lives a life I have often imagined for myself after graduation: residing in culturally-diverse Brooklyn, somehow making a living while creating and appreciating art at the same time, cultivating a rich social life. Yet this fantasy and our current reality are horribly unaligned. There’s something so uncanny about watching a show that was meant to reflect a time that hasn’t passed yet or a time that never really existed and now certainly never will.

One of the hosts of The New York Times’s podcast “Still Processing,” Jenna Wortham, comments on the bizarre experience of watching the characters of “High Fidelity” explore her city as she stays locked up self-isolating in her home. “It’s like … a virtual 3D tour of this place that we can’t go anymore,” she says. Wesley Morris, her co-host, adds, “everything that happened before a couple weeks ago is instant nostalgia. It is instantly the past … It automatically makes everything romantic.”

And it really does. Not just watching “High Fidelity” or season four of “Insecure,” a show that has carried me diligently through my college career from its season one premiere in 2016. Just existing in the era of the coronavirus, we are living in this distinctly in-between phase, where we know that the past as we knew it no longer exists, though it feels like it’s right there within a few inches of our grasp. A scene of Rob and her friends from “High Fidelity” rubbing their elbows into the curve of the bar while out drinking in Brooklyn or a gorgeous scene in the latest episode of “Insecure” where Molly and Issa hike in Los Angeles, gloriously socially near to each other and the life of their city, is terribly romantic. It’s terribly sad, too.

However, living in this time comes with a dose of self-denial and dissociation. We are all stuck inside our homes. Life feels frozen, stuck, and we remind ourselves of what it looks like in our televisions and in our memories, digital and otherwise. But life is going on. I can’t help but think about all the moments at Bowdoin I romanticized and the ones I didn’t. Like nervously dancing at what was then AfAm’s “Rep Your City” party in September 2015, when I participated in Explore Bowdoin as an overzealous high school senior. Embarrassing SuperSnacks encounters freshman year. Singing along to The Smiths under twinkling fairy lights on many evenings sophomore year. Finding any excuse to escape campus on the weekends during what felt like my never-ending junior year. Finally finding my stride senior year, only to leave too soon. My experiences at Bowdoin, like the worlds of television shows none of us can ever really inhabit, have always been tinged with nostalgia and yearning, the wedding of the bad and the good, the bittersweetness of knowing that the moment you’re living in is so blissfully and irrevocably impermanent, intangible.

My junior year I wrote about this feeling for a previous column and got a comment that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about ever since. CSR wrote, “while reading your piece, I could picture myself during those years, reveling in the silence and the obvious, ubiquitous beauty of our surroundings. Being at Bowdoin was complicated but deep and full.”

This is how I feel as I escape via my favorite television shows during quarantine, as I blink back memories too painful to bear: hilarious late night conversations in Russwurm with friends, running in freezing weather through the snow to off-campus parties, the many, many times I slipped and fell flat on my back while walking across the icy campus on winter nights.

This is how I feel, remembering the privilege I had to even attend this institution. The privilege to be able to write self-indulgent, long, meandering columns, to have the luxury of time spent doing nothing but thinking deeply about the world and my place in it. The privilege to be able to watch shows like “High Fidelity” and believe that there’s a world where nothing matters more than how good your music taste is and whether your crush likes you back.

This is that feeling of deep gratitude we all experience walking across the quad on particularly starry nights, faced with the undeniable beauty of Hubbard Hall bathed in moonlight: complicated but deep and full. Forgive the lack of subtlety, but isn’t that the way life should be?



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  1. Class of 2019 says:

    Aisha – thank you for this.
    your column ALWAYS makes me think in new ways or tear up or think AHA – that’s how to poetically describe that thought or feeling I have! — thank you always for your writing.

    Wow what a far away world that whole universe suddenly seems… I sure do miss those moments.

  2. Nathaniel Harrsion '68 says:

    Ms Rickford,

    This is a stunningly beautiful piece of writing and thinking. I confess that I missed the import of some of the present-day cultural references. But your evocation of the Bowdoin experience in the closing paragraphs rings poignantly true — even for someone who left Brunswick more than half a century ago. I wish you all the very best.

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