Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
July 6, 2020

One timeline ends, another begins. Wake up, rinse, repeat.

By JACOB TOOK | May 3, 2020

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COURTESY OF BRANDT MATTHEWS

Took reflects on how he expressed himself during various moments.

I’ve been thinking about alternative timelines a lot lately. When you’re at the start of something, you imagine a thousand possibilities. When you’re at the end, you imagine a thousand other ways it could have gone.

Commencement, a milestone that echoes across almost every timeline I can imagine, is about to cap my last 18 years of being a student. As I teeter on the edge of this critical ending and beginning at an especially tumultuous time, I can’t help but think about the other ways I might have arrived here and wonder what happens next.

There are timelines in which I don’t attend Hopkins. There are timelines in which I don’t major in Writing Seminars. There are timelines in which I’m not vegetarian, in which I didn’t grow up on a ranch, in which I never moved to the United States. Unbelievably, there are timelines in which I never join The News-Letter.

At this point I usually stop imagining timelines and start remembering the one I’m on, because I don’t like the sound of the last four years without The News-Letter.

I have an abstract sense that I’d be on a very different timeline if I’d become a paleontologist like I wanted when I was little, moved with my mom to Alaska instead of Texas or enrolled at a different university. But in a very real way, The News-Letter shaped who I am and how I move through the world. Without it, my time at Hopkins and the person I’d be today would be unrecognizable.

Yet so much has happened since my earliest days at The News-Letter that it’s hard to believe I’m still on the same timeline. I saw the Gatehouse before any other part of campus on the morning my mom and I drove up from D.C. for move-in. I signed up for almost every section’s email list at the Student Involvement Fair. I kicked my roommate out while I did interviews at my dorm room desk and then stayed up late in the AMR II study lounge writing my pieces.

I joined The News-Letter because I loved to write. I wasn’t holding a bunch of timelines in my head, trying to imagine how the next four years would go. Instead, I just devoted myself to the present and took my timeline one day at a time. And I loved it, and I thrived.

I’m envious of that. I had the energy to wake up and see every morning as a new beginning. I used to think it meant I lacked self-awareness and was a weakness I would grow out of. Now, having grown out of it, I’m starting to realize that it fuelled me. I’m in the final sprint of a four-year marathon, but instead of feeling relieved to finally see the finish line and tasting triumph in making it this far along my timeline, I’m just exhausted. And I know it doesn’t end here. I have to wake up every morning to keep on running.

Looking back on my early News-Letter days, I remember why I used to wake up feeling fresh every morning. At the core of professional development and resume building was pure curiosity, deep concern for the people around me and a passion for storytelling. I satisfied my love of learning while grappling with new characters, places and ideas in my writing. I forged iron-clad friendships with my fellow editors who were in the trenches with me doing work we found important and fulfilling. To all of them, I’m grateful.

For four years I’ve woken up and dealt with The News-Letter every day. Exactly what that looked like changed over time as I took on new roles and my priorities shifted. Other timelines came and went. Sometimes I took them into stride easily. In other cases I took a few tentative steps before backtracking. The News-Letter has been a constant throughout, keeping me grounded and keeping me going.

Consistent as it was, my News-Letter timeline also twisted and turned. As a writer, I idolized my editors, took my reporting a little too seriously and bristled at criticism of the paper. When I became an editor, the work became my whole life. After three different roles in three years, I’ve felt burnout, been frustrated by my reporting and struggled to put the right words in the right order. But I’ve also felt myself growing, becoming a more careful listener, a more thorough thinker, a more responsible leader.

I’m grateful to have The News-Letter as a record of my time at Hopkins. My past pieces remind me directly or indirectly of the lessons I learned as I grew from challenges I faced and mistakes I made.

I don’t agree with everything I’ve written. I chuckle at the opening tirade against poetry in my column about the Pulse shooting. I rushed into publishing an early draft of my thoughts on polyamory which have since evolved. I co-wrote The Gay Agenda, and even more recently shared a piece on identifying as gay well before arriving at my current understanding of the label “gay.” My quiet reverence as a writer stopped me from speaking up against this ridiculous ranking of 2016’s best pop albums that somehow disrespects Frank Ocean, Rihanna and Beyoncé all at once.

But it’s okay. I didn’t write those pieces to set myself in stone. I wrote to express myself at a particular moment, and now I can look back and trace the timelines threaded through my work. As my time at The News-Letter comes to a close, I realize that I’m not part of some grand tapestry. Life is woven from different timelines that come together to make every day unique. At some point I got so used to holding all those timelines in my head that I lost touch with what tethered me from one day to the next.

I’m used to thinking of Commencement as an ending, but now is the time to pivot. To make the most of this new beginning, my project is to write every timeline I can imagine. I hope that putting them on the page will clear space in my head to rediscover the lust for life that fuelled my early News-Letter days. I want to wake up in the morning to keep on running, not because I have an end in sight, but simply because I’m exhilarated by the journey.

No more imagining what could have been or what could be. I will take my timeline one day at a time. And I will love it, and I will thrive.

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