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The man behind the mask

By Patrick Healy, Opinion Editor

President-elect Steve Stoute said in his public forum that sometimes he wakes up and isn’t sure if he wants to be a college president. Some weeks, I just don’t want to be Opinion editor. This week, I’m doing something slightly different.

Almost two years and 75,000 words at this paper and I’m finally editorializing about something other than politics, whether of the state or Canisius variety. Maybe I should have saved this for the Quadrangle, but it’s too late and this is too long.

Let’s get to it. Last week I watched the newly released movie “The Adam Project,” and it made me think. (Is that a normal reaction to film? I watched it because I didn’t want to think!)

The idea is cool, but the actual sci-fi stuff is quite bad. Maybe the animators were from the 1970s. I’m not exactly the most qualified movie critic — I can name more heads of state than A-, B-, C- and D-list celebrities combined — but the plot, consisting of the characters trying to stop a “wormhole” in time from ever existing, is pretty bad too.

The moral of the movie comes from the relationship between a preteen named Adam and his time-traveling, middle-aged self. The older Adam tells his younger self to treat his mom better. You get the gist.

What’s important here is that one of young Adam’s greatest insecurities is his appearance: he’s 12 but he looks eight. Bingo — that’s relatable! I’m like that! Granted, this was more of a problem when I wasn’t 6’3”, but now I just look like a giant middle schooler.

Last week, a kind older woman asked what high school I attend, to which I obligingly declared that, no, ma’am, I actually attend Canisius. Canisius College. Playfully, I asked her to elaborate her assumption. Of my age, she said, “16… 17… well, maybe 18 with that hat.” She hastily hedged: “Don’t worry, honey, you’ll like that at my age. People’ll think you’re 70 when you’re really 80.”

It’s not a great comfort to think of the benefits to my social security–collecting self. However, as a table tennis enthusiast, it was sort of fun to watch the mental match between honesty and kindness. Kidding aside, it was unfair of me to ask that. It was an attempt to poke fun at my facial insecurity.

Masks have been great for me. I’m no gerontologist, but I’m Hillary Clinton 11/7/16-level confident that masks make me look older, that it has protected me from perceived ageism.

More than two years after former President Donald Trump’s COVID-19 declaration of emergency, we are finally unmasking. My worst fears have been confirmed: I still look 12. Maybe it’s time — metaphor alert — for me to unmask myself as well.

Security and stories

The mask gave me freedom to pretend that I’m an adult, and somewhere along the way I actually gained the confidence to feel like one. Part of that has to do with simple maturity: I was 18 when COVID came to the U.S., and now I can legally consume alcohol. Another part, though, is that the mask allowed me to do the things that I associate with old age.

I attend town board meetings; I’m involved in local politics; I’m engaged in my community. In other words, I’m living the life I imagined myself living. The mask allowed me to not worry about being looked down upon (socially, if not physically).

Part of that story is my time at this paper. Though I had never written for The Griffin, at the beginning of the pandemic I became its assistant Opinion editor, a post that I took way too seriously but which contributed immensely to my confidence. I’ve said a lot of dumb things and I’ll continue to say dumb things, but being part of this paper has given me a stake in an institution which I can help to perpetuate.

That’s what I’ve always wanted, I think: to be part of not just something greater than myself, but to be part of a whole — to be useful, and to better myself. Lots of people want to be something greater than themselves. I’m not so much worried about where I fit vertically into a religious or social hierarchy, but I’ve always been conscious of how I fit horizontally, on the axis of age.

I think the word “insecurity” is thrown out a lot to describe angst or sensitivity in younger people. In my case, the problem wasn’t angst (I don’t particularly fear death) or sensitivity (I don’t worry about my place among peers). I simply didn’t feel attached to — secure in — the world around me. The Griffin isn’t a living thing, but it links generations of Canisius students.

By trying to be like past Griffin writers, I’m both challenging myself to become better and attempting to keep the torch aflame for those who come after me. I might be the newest link, but nevertheless I am part of a chain. It’s important to me, especially as an aspiring lawyer, that I follow precedent.

What we do while we’re young, it also seems to me, determines how we will spend our elder years. Not just physically and fiscally, though push-ups and IRAs surely do correlate with post-quinquagenarian quality of life, but also socially and personally. Determining how we spend our time and who we spend with it is probably more important than tracking body fat and the Nasdaq.

Wit and Whitman

Walt Whitman said life is a powerful play and that we may contribute a verse. I used to view this simply as a poetic take on legacy, but I missed the metaphor. Life isn’t a blank canvas we manipulate; it is a play where we may contribute a verse. A verse, Merriam Webster tells me, is “writing in which words are arranged in a rhythmic pattern.” Our words — our legacy — are our own, but we must fit them into the existing arrangement. Whether it is the world or this paper, what we contribute is structured by that to which we contribute.

Unlike most of our staff, I’m not a journalism, English or creative writing major. I’m very much a left-brained, legal-positivist type. I looked at colleges for their statistics programs, and I only chose political science because I read Noam Chomsky after 11th grade (it was a rough year personally and politically). As my freshman year was being shuttered by the pandemic, The Griffin was looking for an assistant Opinion editor. I joined. I wrote a lot about politics.

This past year, as Opinion editor, I realized that people might not want to read about my governmental pipe dreams. I wet my feet with Canisius topics the best way a political science major knows how: acronyms. HEERF (federal COVID-19 money) and CEEP (research assistantships) were my first two articles truly about Canisius.

Though I’ve taken only one class in communications and will leave that career to my capable collegiate colleagues, my reporting for this rag has molded my mind in the model of the muckrakers. I’ve developed my (obnoxiously alliterative) style within the golden confines of the View from The Griffin’s Nest.

Freshman me would be terrified of how much writing I’ve done and how little time I’ve spent working on my adolescent goal of publishing a better version of the baseball simulation game Strat-O-Matic. For some reason, I think I’m better off the way I am.

In exchange for mediocre moralizing, this paper has given me (way too much) space to develop myself. I’ve considered audience in a way that I just don’t for term papers. I’ve thought in ways that syllabi simply don’t require. And the Notes from Underground hone what little humor I have.

I’ve had to map my thoughts onto three axes: space, time and audience. In other words, how do I cram my thoughts concisely into one column every week for consumption by Canisians? Short answer: I don’t. Long answer: last year, partly to annoy Dr. Hardwick, I ignored space limitations, wrote well in advance and editorialized exclusively about electoral esoterica. This year, I do precisely the same thing, except about Canisius and on page 5 instead of page 6.

Shenanigans aside, there really is no scholarly substitute for the humbling experience of publishing typos in titles or false allegations in articles, and there’s definitely no replacement for creating an idea-generating routine (mine includes Forest Lawn, 50 ounces of Pepsi Max and alliteration). By editing, analyzing and reporting, I get to be judge, jury and court reporter. Pretty good experience for an aspiring lawyer.

A call to pens

If you’ve made it this far, you’re clearly cut out to be in the overlong Opinion section. Go home for spring break and let this rot on the racks in the residence halls as is regular. Then, come join! I’m looking for an assistant editor and more columnists, and you don’t need experience or even an English major.

If you’re a political science major looking to get revenge on Dr. Hardwick for his early classes, an English major looking to practice publishing publicly or any other major who wants to have their voice heard — and stored in the library’s archives forever! — please email that email at the top right corner of this page. I’ll work with you in whatever way you need so that you can have the same experience I’ve had.

Having hit my limit, I’ve said little of substance and much I’ll regret, and have called on others to do work for me. Maybe I do have a career in politics.

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