On Capitalizing on Loneliness and Dealing with Collegiate Grief

There’s a song by Vampire Weekend that ends with “Oh! your collegiate grief has left you dowdy in sweatshirts, absolute horror!” I added this song, “Blake’s Got a New Face” and the rest of the album from whence it came to my Spotify playlist titled “Boston,” a playlist to highlight the sounds of my transition to moving across the country to study in the east, but also to get me excited about Boston with songs about Boston.

Two months of listening to that album go by, and the feelings I’ve developed and have allowed time to mull around are extremely conflicting: I both love college and hate it. Living in a situation where I am eating, sleeping, dressing with another person a couple feet away from me constantly, where across from me, Rihanna is on full blast, and to my left, my hallmate is yelling over the phone all while the glorious smell of marijuana and pancakes wafts heavily through the halls, I had never felt more alone. I was becoming dowdy in sweatshirts, and it really did feel kind of horrific.

Before moving away, I was new to experiencing vulnerability fostered by strangers in a foreign environment. Traveling to new places was always an odd experience, but it was overshadowed by feelings of excitement and the company of family and friends. Perhaps it’s thanks to sheltered suburbia, which I imagine is the case with many incoming college students, but as the weeks slowly went by, it only became more difficult to dispel the feelings of isolation.

I realize that you don’t have to be a new college student to develop these feelings—loneliness is a common sentiment for many regardless of age or personality, and even for some of the happiest people.

And while it isn’t so difficult for some to brush these feelings of loneliness and sadness aside, for a good few, it is. But there are films that have helped me learn that I can manipulate those feelings and rework them into motivation—that it’s possible to find inspiration and passion even in weird, new environments. These are a few.

14e Arrondissement
Alexander Payne’s short film “14e Arrondissement” (part of the collective Paris Je’Taime) is about an American woman moving to France in search of some sort of meaning to life. Although she expresses that she is independent person, she finds herself feeling lonely even amongst all the hustle and bustle of Paris. She wanders around the city by herself, learning French and the culture, and falling in love with the captivating scenery. In the very last scene of the film, she sits at a park bench and thinks to herself: “sitting alone in a foreign country, far from my job and everyone I know, a feeling came over me. It was like remembering something I’d never known before, or had always been waiting for. But I didn’t know what. Maybe it was something I’d forgotten or something I’ve been missing all my life. All I can say is that I felt at the same time joy and sadness. But not too much sadness, because I felt alive. Yes, alive.”

Lost in Translation
This film is one of my favorites; besides the fact that it’s a cinematic masterpiece, Coppola touches upon some sensitive themes. Once again, the film centers around the recurring idea of being surrounded in new territory. Charlotte, the main character, faces boredom and isolation in Tokyo as her husband leaves for work. But she discovers the city and its beauty, taking in all the aesthetic value. She finds herself shifting out of her state of boredom to discover a sense of happiness and even companionship from her endeavors.

Mistress America
Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig collaborate to make a hilarious movie about a freshman who is unable to make friends and assimilate to college culture. She’s bored and lonely, but uses all the free time she has with her stepsister who takes her on crazy adventures throughout New York City. One of her goals is to become accepted by an elite, top-tier writing society at Barnard; in her newfound relationship, she finds inspiration to write, and one of her novels is published. The transition is initially difficult for her, but she learns to accept her situation and make the most out of it.

From these films, I’ve learned that it’s okay to feel deserted and upset. Your feelings are valid and it’s important to accept your emotional terms. However, it’s equally as necessary to realize that ultimately, channeling those feelings into something that can improve both yourself and the people around you is really useful long term. Creativity and inspiration is not unattainable; if you search in the right places, it’s there waiting for you to use it and make something cool.

While I was deeply lost in an existential crisis and sweatshirts, and both the physical and metaphorical comfort of the blanket on my dorm room bed, I soon realized that I have full capability to remove myself from temporary feelings of loneliness.

So whether or not you’re transitioning to college soon like I did some months ago, or even if you’re facing other monumental changes in your life, let these films remind you that using all that negative energy and converting it to something positive can truly be rewarding.

text: isabelle truong
visuals: 14e arrondissement, lost in translation, mistress america
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