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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The Observer

That’s what I want

I’ve started and stopped (and restarted and restopped) this column more times than I would care to count. When my writer’s block reaches a particularly insurmountable impasse, I’ll turn to the search bar of this very website, type in the name of a colleague — a friend — whom I’ve admired and who graduated before me and I’ll read what they wrote below their last Observer byline. Admittedly, this seems to have hurt me more than it’s helped. I feel dramatic. And dumb.

I feel inarticulate. I have a nasty habit of talking — loudly — and punctuating even the shortest of silences with words. Words, words, words. I’ve dedicated so much of my short, stupid life to them. Truly, writing has been my everything, my only. It’s the one thing I’ve ever felt good at. So when the words slip away from my fingers — when they taunt me just past the tip of my tongue, floating away into empty space — I feel worse than frustrated or disappointed or depressed. I feel wordless. 

There’s a version of this column where I thank my family and friends as if I was accepting an Academy Award. I’d conspicuously namedrop professors and peers, while humbly crediting them with my vague and as-yet-to-be-verified success. To be sure, a college degree is an immense, extraordinary privilege; I think a lot of folks at Notre Dame gloss over that. And to be clear, I will not be walking across that stage alone … metaphorically, that is. You know who you are. But with peace and love, that column is cheesy. Delete.

There’s another version of this column where I recall rich, illustrative anecdotes that capture, through the sheer force of their imagery, the melancholy of graduation. It would read like flashes of memory, like Sufjan Stevens’ song lyrics, like the final rays of a sunset or the last page of a very good book. But I said I was good at writing, not Pulitzer Prize-winning. And that column is cheesy, too. Delete, delete. 

So, faced with no better alternative and the strictest of deadlines — this column is quite literally about that deadline — I’ll do what I do whenever I need to put a word to a feeling for which no word exists: I’ll reference a pretentious movie. “Oh brother, this guy stinks!” Yeah, yeah. Listen, if it ain’t broke … I don’t know how that phrase ends, it ain’t broke. And if writing was my first love, then film is the one I married, had kids and grew old with. And when I write about movies, that love comes through.

I recently rewatched “Frances Ha,” one of Greta Gerwig’s last films before she became the acclaimed director of “Lady Bird,” “Little Women” and soon, “Barbie.” She wrote it with her partner, Noah Baumbach, and stars as the eponymous Frances, an aimless twentysomething in New York who is struggling with the fallout of a “friendship breakup.” It is a sly, observant, lovely little film — shot in romantic black-and-white with a killer retro soundtrack — and it’s one of my utmost favs.

About halfway through the film, Frances finds herself at a stuffy, awkward dinner party. Shortly before she leaves, Frances does what Frances — and I — do best: she rambles.She rambles about “what she wants in a relationship … or just life, I guess.”

“It’s that thing,” she says, growing excited, “when you’re with someone, and you love them and they know it, and they love you and you know it, but it’s a party. And you’re both talking to other people and you’re laughing and shining, and you look across the room and you catch each other’s eyes. But not because you’re possessive … but because that is your person … And it’s funny and sad, but only because this life will end. And it’s this secret world that exists right there, in public, unnoticed, that no one else knows about … That’s what I want.” 

At the end of the film, at a party, Frances locks eyes with her former best friend across the room. There’s a moment of recognition, of understanding. They smile.

That’s what I want from graduation. It’s what I wanted from college — what I got. Not congratulations, not accolades, not tears. For once, not even words. I want to catch your eye in a crowd, and I want us both to understand.

I love you.

Aidan is graduating from Notre Dame with a degree in film and minors in journalism and marketing. After graduation, he is moving to Chicago — from whose infamous suburbs he is from — to pursue an Adult Job. Someday soon, he hopes to go to grad school. Please validate him by contacting Thanks for everything, my Observer. 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.