Thrive on Campus//

Summer Story #1: Feeling Small

"I don't really know how I feel about it all, but this experience has made me consider what it really means to be an adult."

Movies Historic Cinema Movie Sign Theatre
Movies Historic Cinema Movie Sign Theatre

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It’s summer time! This means I’m not on campus and talking about campus issues is therefore a baby bit irrelevant. So, I decided to do a little set of summer stories about my experiences off campus, out in the real world.

Here’s the first:

I rarely feel small. I’m 5’10″ and I have bright red hair. Enough said.
But, last week, I had an encounter that I can’t quite shake. Spoiler alert: It made me feel really, really small.

I’ve been living alone for the past month in the farthest possible city from my hometown without leaving the mainland US (I moved from Cincinnati to Seattle). It’s been a little challenging adjusting to life alone in a new place and I’d be lying if I said the first few days weren’t incredibly lonely. But, thanks to the power of modern technology (read: BumbleBFF), I was able to meet a new friend and we’ve been finding all sorts of fun things to do in the city before she leaves for her internship across the globe.

One of the things on our Seattle bucket list was seeing a movie, so when she texted me and asked if I wanted to see The Farewell, starring none other than Awkwafina, I obviously said yes.

It’s an introspective indie. One of those films that does a deep dive into culture and the human spirit and shows in select theatres for a *limited time only*. Being an indie, the film showed in a theatre unlike any I had been to before. There was only one showing room with two levels of seating that held 500 patrons. From what I gathered on their website, they only show films that are difficult to see in a typical commercial theatre.

As we sat down in our seats, we got to chatting about the scenery. We both commented on how fun this place would be for people-watching, as it had drawn a rather diverse crowd. Old people, young people, people with brightly colored hair and hipster glasses, people in khakis and polo shirts, artsy looking people, preppy looking people, allllllll the kinds of people were there.

We, along with most of these people, continued to talk as the previews began and the lights remained on.

We were talking a tad bit loud but anyone who knows me won’t find this surprising. Our conversation was about Tom Holland’s LipSync battle and how impressive his performance was. Mind you, we’re 19 and 20 years old and she was leaving for Indonesia in a week, so this very important topic was discussed with much excitement.

About a minute into our conversation, the man in front of us—an older Caucasian man with a thick white beard, bald head, and thin glasses (picture a less jolly Santa Claus)—turned around to face us. His nose wrinkled and his eyes squinted as his face contorted into a strange scowl and he sarcastically sneered, “your conversation is ooooobviously so much more exciting than the previews. But I came here to watch this movie and these are part of the film.”

In other words: “SHUT. UP.” with an undertone of “you don’t belong here.”

I, afraid of any and all confrontation, squeaked out a weak “oh… right…sorry” and he turned back to face the front. My cheeks reddened and my heart rate escalated and I turned to face my friend, whose facial expression read the same thing that ran through my head: WHAT JUST HAPPENED?!

Too afraid to whisper, for fear of angry Santa’s wrath, we just made bewildered faces at each other for a second. We then turned back to the screen and blankly stared at the previews as our fellow theatergoers continued to chat it up.

At this moment, you might be thinking one of a few things. Perhaps you, too, are an angry Santa and find no fault in this man’s approach to asking us to shut up. Maybe your cheeks are turning red from secondhand embarrassment. Or maybe you’re thinking about the comeback lines I should have used instead of weakly mumbling sorry.

Whatever your reaction, mine was to think a lot. For the next 30 minutes (which, by the way included the first 15 minutes of the film), I worked my way through anger at this man for having such a visceral reaction to friends conversing. It wasn’t the fact that he wanted us to be quiet, but rather the way he went about it. Why couldn’t he have asked calmly instead of mocking the frivolity of our topic and jeering in a way that implied he was addressing little girls?

I then started to think about the fact that he probably didn’t see anything wrong with his reaction and couldn’t have ever known that he ruined my movie-going experience because I spent the first 15 minutes of the movie unpacking his rage. This thought led me to think about the power dynamics of the situation.

Before the film began, the curator had asked the theatre’s members to raise their hands. The man in front of us did. He fit the image of a typical movie man: old, white, male, member of the local indie theatre.

Film has looked like this man for a long time. But, as a woman, this film was something to celebrate: it was directed by a woman, and starred a woman who was dealing with her grandmother (a woman)’s illness. The film also starred only actors with Asian heritage (aka there were no old…or young…white men…or women…in it). How ironic that, at a film which tried to break down the typical barriers of the industry, this man’s behavior so clearly reminded us of their presence.

When we exited the theatre later, my friend and I talked about how this man felt entitled to belittle us. He saw no issue is asking us to be quiet by mocking not only the fact that we were talking, but also the contents of our conversation. We wondered if he would have responded the same to two college-aged men saying the same things, or to two 40-year old women. We laughed when we considered how he would have responded to a man of his own age.

We decided that it was likely the combination of our age and gender which made him feel no qualms about his statement. We considered re-entering the theatre and confronting him, but struggled to find the courage to do so.

I’ve been disappointed in myself for not having the guts to call out someone who had such an easy time minimizing my friend and I. It’s made me think a lot about the strange place I am in life–trapped between childhood and adulthood. I am aiming for freedom but still tethered to a social hierarchy where I am seen as less than.

Finding your place in the world is a weird thing and finding the confidence to demand respect in your place is even weirder. I don’t quite know how I feel about it all, but this experience has made me consider what it really means to be an adult.

I know that it means leading the people younger than you, rather than trying to remind them of their youth. It means being open to new things and welcoming new people into your spaces, in turn being willing to grow. I have come to the conclusion that this man was not acting an adult and that my lack of response to him wasn’t exactly adult either.

Growing up is weird and confusing and I guess what I’m trying to say is that, in the process of becoming an adult, I am constantly reminded that many still see me as small. The most important thing I can do now is not allow the views of others to make me minimize myself. I need to start demanding my own space in this world and creating my own seat at any table.

I need to have the confidence to confront the Angry Santas of the world so that they no longer feel entitled to make other people feel small. I want to grow up, so I need to speak up.

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More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

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