Tara Isabella Burton on the Combination of Isolation, Vulnerability, and Hunger for Knowledge
By Tara Isabella Burton, March 9, 2022
Every few years, I go through entries of my now-defunct Livejournal: a journaling website I used with obsessive regularity throughout my teenage and college years.
Invariably, my attention turns to my earliest entries on the platform; largely written during the three years I spent in somewhat feral isolation at a red-brick, ivy-trellised boarding school in New Hampshire. They are, of course, what we might now call cringe: agonizingly earnest, intellectually rapacious, emotionally overrwrought. But they are also, in their way, beautiful.
Back then, I believed that everything I ever learned in class applied directly, and exactly, to the life I would one day live. I would write thousands of words after Latin class, meditating on whether I was more like pious, self-controlled Aeneas or the passionate Dido: her heart constantly aflame. (The answer was, naturally, the latter, although I often wished I could develop the capacities of the former). I would write about reading Antony and Cleopatra in my senior Shakespeare seminar, and wonder aloud—to a “friendslocked” audience of ten or twenty strangers—whether all human relationships demanded performative artificiality.
My emotional life and my academic life were intertwined, as they had never been before, and never would be thereafter: in college, in grad school, in adulthood. What I read—whether in class or sequestered away on my school library’s third-floor mezzanine, sufficiently ill-attended that it doubled as an infamous campus hookup joint—mattered to me.