Old is the New

I took a bus in the morning to some place
I’ve never visited before.It was with a
group of students and some professors from
my university.I felt adventurous going on
this trip with an unfamiliar crowd, hoping
to make new friends. As I got on the bus,
I felt self-conscious of the clothes I was
wearing to my hair. Not that it mattered,
but to some degree, I’ve been self-conscious
of my image even though I wrestle with my thoughts,
There’s nothing to worry about .

Columns of the museum

Columns of the museum

The bus dropped everyone off at the St.Louis art
museum, where I spent most of my afternoon.
Art. It was subject I had spent too much time
studying,making,and gushing about before my college
years. Despite how I was good at making art, I had
lost hope that it was worth anything valuable and
that I couldn’t possibly use it to say, help out
developing countries, or to boost the economy,
or make environmental changes… For almost two years,
I experienced something like Picasso’s blue period,
except I didn’t produce any sad artworks, just some
doodles I posted on Instagram.

But something about looking at the masterpieces of
art revoked a part of me I tried to stifle, the part
that appreciated art. As soon as I walked into the
lobby of the museum, I could smell it.
Art has a smell. And to me, it smells great like
how gasoline smells nice to some people’s nose.
I entered the left wing consisting of European
pieces most of which were from the Impressionism era.
From Monet to Renoir, I saw the familiar faces of
time and even encountered new faces on canvases
and in frames. As I was gawking at the panel of Monet’s
Water Lilies , a stranger approached me.

“Did you come on the bus from the University?”
“Yes,” I replied.
And so his string of questions continued about who
I was, what year I was in college (“Oh. You’re an undergrad, huh.”)…
Then I mirrored his inquires.
“I’m a student studying nuclear engineering in grad. school,”
he answered proudly.Of course, he asked about what
I was studying in college. “Oh you’re studying engineering. Wow.
You must be smart,” he remarked. His gestures and remarks were kind,
but I was still very alert during the conversation.
Then I felt him looking at me, and then as he realized
I caught him in the act, he said,”You look beautiful.”
Some girls may have blushed and thanked him for his
compliment. On the other hand, I wasn’t impressed.
The sentence, You look beautiful, has two implications.
One: I’m looking at your body, and your body looks nice.
Two: He could have said, You are beautiful, but instead
chose to say You look beautiful.

Immediately, I felt self-conscious. However,
I just shrugged his compliment and made my
way to the other side of the room.
He followed. After a few minutes,
he came up behind me.”Are you done looking around?
We should go to the zoo.”I paused, gathering my words
in my head. How could I be done looking around
when there are six more wings on this floor to
examine, and two more floors of this museum I haven’t
even stepped my feet in yet?” No, I am really loving
the art here. But you could go to the zoo if you want.
I’m fine here by myself.” And just like that, I swerved
behind him and removed myself from that room as quickly as
possible. I never saw him again, and on the bus, I averted
my eyes until I found a seat next to a real friend I made
that day, a nice lady who admired contemporary art.

I had no desire to leave with someone I didn’t know
and was not at all impressed with, and I am really
happy to have made that decision. It was also proof
that I wasn’t willing to yield to other people’s
desires and remain adamant about my choices.
And I’m glad to have stayed at the museum
because there I realized how much art is important
to society. It takes you back into history.
Before the invention of photography,portraits were
visual medias to seal a person’s physicality forever,
whether that person worked for the King of Spain
(or the King himself), or the person was the painter’s
admiration or unrequited love, or whether the child in
the painting was a mother’s loss… It takes you
back to these mean skills the artists had to recreate
the images they saw in front of them. From the color
they chose to the composition, the artists could manipulate
a part of history according to their interpretation
and in the process evoke emotions from viewers. Of course,
who knows what the artists really wanted.
Even if that was the case, I kept thinking if these
artists in their lifetime ever
thought that their works would be exhibited and have
the same awe as a Picasso and Monet.
I kept questioning their motives, and each artwork
told stories of their life.
A dreary looking canvas painted with brown and gray
told a story of a depressed artist
who committed suicide. When he was alive, I wondered,
did he ever predict he would be so successful?

There is more to life than this.

There is more to life than this.

I left the museum after 3.5 hours.
Then I took a bus to the other side of the park, only
to have gotten off at the wrong stop and waited at
the bus stop for one hour. After
waiting for the bus as long as I did, I saw three
elderly women walking back to the museum, where I
needed to go. Not knowing my way, I used GPS to
guide me back. A mother who needed to go back to
the zoo to find her sister who was taking care of
her baby saw me walking back, too, started walking.
Soon, she caught up with me.
“I think the GPS is taking you around, the long way.”
She was a St.Louis native, so I heeded her guidance.
“See over there,” she pointed to her left to what looked like a statue,
“That’s where the museum is,
by the lake. We just have to walk through the park.”
I followed her, and as we walked for a few minutes,
I saw the columns of the museum clearly.
Relieved that I was where I needed to be, I thanked her multiple times.
“I was thinking you didn’t want to walk the long way in this heat,”
she said to me. I must admit,
flip-flops is poor walking gear in this hot weather.
After she and I departed ways, I walked up and down the
sidewalk trying to decide how to spend
the last hour before I had to go back to campus.
Ahead of me, I saw people holding picnic gear all
heading the same direction. I followed them. It was an
outdoor Shakespeare festival, free of charge.
Luckily for me, the play Henry IV was about
to start. Since I did not want to pay for chairs,
I sat down on the grass as groundlings did, back in the
day. Soon, renaissance music boomed from the audio
system, and actors and actresses bantered in Shakespearean.
I was unfamiliar with the play– I admit,
because of the Shakespearean-speak, it was hard to follow– but I
could catch many laughs when the characters
were insulting one another. About half-way into the play,
I left to go catch my bus to go home.

That evening, I was exhausted from walking around,
but I couldn’t feel more happy that I was
finding myself again. At a time in my life when
I’m constantly meeting new people, trying new
foods, learning about the world and how to solve
differential equations, I find it very difficult
to be true to myself, as the old adage goes. Sometimes,
I feel ashamed that I might not have the
nicest clothes to wear, or stupid when my genius
friends dally on about their research in the protein
found in mice, or sad wishing that I had a job so my
parents don’t have to sacrifice so much for me.
Because of these insecurities, I had once reached a
conclusion I had to make a big change in who I was.
And by change, meaning that I could not accept being myself,
that I had to look up to the same people my parents
looked up to or who the media tells me to admire. In a way,
I think all of us have dealt with that pressure at
one time. But as in the law of physics, matter cannot be created
or destroyed. Matter just is the way it is.
We could however, rearrange matter and still maintain its identity.
I could still make
small adjustments which can make a huge impact improving the person I am.

A sketch I did after the visit.

A sketch I did after the visit.

I still have trouble with deciding what I want to do in the next few years.
Whether to go to a professional school
to develop my creative skills, or go out into the real world.
Or maybe volunteer for humanitarian organizations.
Honestly, I don’t know.
What I know is that if I preserve my originality, it will take me
to places which will bring out the best
in me and in effect, make an impact that could possibly be as big
as the one artists made in the past and present.

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