The last two cities I have lived in have been hotbeds for human activity. My hometown of Houston is home to nearly 2 million people seeking H.E.B. grocery trips or Honey Butter Chicken Biscuits from their neighborhood Whataburger and Boston,where I have spent the last two months, is home to nearly 700,000 people looking to find their place in the fabric of this historic city. In both of these places, it’s easy for me to separate myself from others. In the hustle of everyday life, connecting with more than a few people at a time requires a certain level of planning and effort that, after a long day at work, I usually am too tired to reach. Isolation is easy even in places that seem to be swarming with life. Yet, in a room about the size of a typical classroom, I felt like I couldn’t evade the curse of companionship.
Walking into the Mapparium, a model of the world as it would have looked in 1935, I expected nothing. Truth be told I barely knew how to pronounce the name of the structure (“muh-pair-ee-um”) minutes before walking inside. And as our guide detailed the history of the exhibit, explained its relationship to the Church of Christian Science, and warned against throwing any objects over the walkway that split the world horizontally, one comment caught my attention more than the others, “anything you say, even whisper, inside the Mapparium will be heard by everyone.” She went on to describe how the glass structure of the Mapparium allows for the easy transition of sound waves from any given starting point around the circumference of the structure so that the faintest gasp would be heard by the group.
My body froze immediately. I’m not one to hold back my thoughts or shy away from a shady comment, but something about having every word I say being heard by complete strangers sent me into shock. However, I managed to keep most of my comments to myself. The few times I did whisper to the person next to me, I was pointing out how Africa was split into colonial states or how Korea was not yet split. This time around, my comments were no cause for concern. Rather the comments of others made my skin crawl.
After the guide finished her presentation and a short video concluded, she invited the group to experiment with the acoustics of the unique structure in which we found ourselves. That’s when the vocal cacophony commenced. The voices around me flooded the 3D map like a tidal wave washing upon a rocky shore and flooded my head with thoughts and ideas that were not my own. I felt like I suddenly had unrequested and unrestricted access to every conversation happening on Earth at that moment. I felt like the voices of those around me—friends, instructors, and strangers—worked in concert to make me as uncomfortable as possible. For what seemed like an eternity all I could do was stare up at the U.S.S.R. and wish I could leave the model-world.
I now realize that’s what day-to-day life at Duke feels like a lot of the time. Considerably smaller and denser than either Houston or Boston, it becomes very easy for me to get swept into Duke’s social fabric and forget about major responsibilities. In the course of an hour, I can cross 3 campuses, be in two classes, see friends from my SLG or my dance team, and send roughly 30 texts about plans for the night. Over time, the sheer volume of these interactions begins to feel suffocating. Don’t get me wrong, I now love every aspect of my life at Duke and don’t think I would have come to enjoy my time there without the people that make Duke great. But sometimes, all of the voices I hear in a day can flood my mind and leave me feeling overwhelmed. That then begs the question: what can be done?
In the case of the Mapparium, all I had to do was endure a few minutes of pain and walk out. Those few minutes of chaos did not impact me enough to necessitate finding an alternative way out. But when it comes to Duke, enduring chaos, turmoil, or discomfort long enough can be damaging to all aspects of a student’s life. I’m still figuring out how to silence the world around me and allow myself to take a break from the intense atmosphere Duke breeds. Somedays I read a book in my hammock, compete in freestyle battles with my crew (shout out to Dusty and Musty), or go to a coffee shop in Chapel Hill. Each of this self-care inspired events allows me to distance myself from the hectic environment waiting for me outside the doors of Crowell EE. No matter the event, however, the goal is the same: isolating myself from the thousands of voices I hear day in and day out, enjoying simplistic versions of fun, and leaving the world—metaphorically or literally—behind if even for a moment.