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The Scarlet & Black

Survival Testimonies and Personal Journals

This is my last column of the semester! Thank you to everyone who has read it and let me know that they enjoy reading it—it means a lot. I have never really had a solid idea for a column. I usually just let out a deluge of words that grows somewhat coherent after some rearranging. But I’m always impressed with how my words manage to articulate a thought in a way that my mind never could on its own.

I’m teaching a class at the Newton Prison for Men next semester, focused on the theme of survival within three short stories and one novel. When I stumbled upon an article by Humera Afridi on Guernica Magazine, I merely read it with the intention of finding interesting supplementary material for the class. Its impact echoed far beyond my considerations of a syllabus. It pushed me to rethink how I approach the class, and how narratives of survival and of life are articulated in the world around us.

Afridi explored survival in post-natural disaster landscapes—Staten Island after Hurricane Sandy, Tacloban City after Typhoon Haiyan— and the symbolic necessity for a survivor to convey their story. The author described how disasters left those affected feeling like they were disconnected from the world at large, victims of cataclysms that shattered their image of the Earth.

The article stated, “Ever more rudderless and desperate, the invisible aspire to membership in the tribe of the boldly living, relying on community-based organizations, if they exist in their area, to bring their struggles to light. Survivors want—no, need, deserve—their losses to be articulated and etched into public memory.”

The piece made me reimagine the obligations that we have to preserve the experiences of people in words, as testimonies. The case of the disaster gave real life consequences to the thus far intellectual precepts with which I approached the class I was to teach. When telling a story of survival, who do the survivors tell their stories to? Anyone who will listen?

But this isn’t a meditation on disaster relief. I’m not a GDS concentrator and I want to use this example to bring up how we voice our own experiences. Not to be melodramatic, but journals, I think, can represent a powerful representation of what drives human survival. Journals give voice to the things that we encounter, overcome and dread on a daily basis. The acts that we choose to write about are the stories we tell each other after a long day or in between classes, they’re flashes of experience that you find meaningful enough to share and preserve.

Experiences significant enough that, sure, maybe you won’t remember them a few years down the line, but for a time they captured your full attention—symbolic and psychic navigations that represent the reasons that we wake up every day. While survival prerogative is simple—make it to the next day—we can articulate the day-to-day routine that we fall into and look into them to understand how we give meaning to our own lives.

The journal I keep myself is a dream journal. A friend once told me that a dream journal, “allows you to know yourself as a dreamer.” I remember my dreams vividly and have on occasion been able to interfere with the workings of my dreams. I was always dismayed whenever anyone would say, “I never remember any of my dreams.” Dreams are opportunities to experience fantasy first hand, its deliriums, paradises and all the spaces in between free to explore. Whether to explore the ostensibly symbolic nature of these dreams or just keep a catalogue of freak incidents that you dreamed up, I’m keeping track of my own unconscious.

Yet in doing so, I see that my own unconscious is fixated with survival—my most recurring dream is a zombie apocalypse! In addition to these scenarios, a while ago, I had a dream that I was in “The Hunger Games.” The only weapons I had gotten from the Cornucopia, the supply tent at the beginning of the games, were two forks. Yes, two dining forks. As the other tributes closed in on me and I felt death approaching, a doorway opened and my close friend Linnea Hurst [’15] pulled me out of my situation and into a dark room, and held me tight. I was in no physical danger, really, but she saved me from the intense fear that I would lose my life. It’s moments like these that show me how closely I rely on my friends for my sense of well being, a revelation that comes up time and time again in my journal, and that speaks to the symbolic value behind my day-to-day survival.

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