BERKELEY'S NEWS • OCTOBER 01, 2022

Driving back to Berkeley

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AUGUST 18, 2022

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On Tuesday morning at 9 am, I made tearful goodbyes to my friends and family and stuffed my car to the brim – ready to destroy and recreate my life in a matter of hours.

On this drive from Altadena to Berkeley, wedged between pillows and laundry hampers, my mind drifted over the summer months. 

If you’d told me in May that I would publish the words “sucking on a penis” in the newspaper next to a picture of my face, I’d have thrown my laptop out the window. 

I laughed and thought back through the titles I’d chosen. Truthfully, if you only read those, it sounds like an anarchist manifesto.

“Do nothing, be bisexual, self obsess, and start a cult. While you’re at it, throw your own birthdays, steal clothes and fake sickness. Oh, and bully magicians, hoard music and flunk out of school.”

Sure, there’s more to it. But to me, that’s hilarious — that someone might think I’m an unhinged sociopath bent on defiling any tradition I can.

As I zoomed up the I-5 (yes, the I-5), the stench of thousands of cows climbed through my air vents, bringing back all the less-than-lovely memories of the writing process.

About halfway through my tenure, I was reminded of my theme — unpopular opinions and unqualified advice. I’d written myself into a corner, unable to write anything popular or qualified. 

Struggling, I remember reading my article alongside the other columnists’ impressively profound pieces about their most personal struggles. Meanwhile, I was shouting that I used to do magic tricks. I had a real insecurity about using my platform to goof off and revel in controversy instead of tackling heavier issues.

But then I thought, if I’m lucky enough to have a platform from which I can shout into the void, why not sing instead? Isn’t there strength in choosing to see beauty in the brokenness?

Bumpbumpbump. My tires hitting the edge of my lane dragged me back to reality. Calming myself, I set the cruise control to two digits and drifted back into memory.

I thought of my editor gracefully reminding me to cut back on putting cracks in the fourth wall after I invited my readers to share a bowl of strawberries with me. A valid concern.

For me, the fourth wall has always been clear — a sheet of glass that distorted the audience like a shower door. Of course, I never outright shattered it. But, I am known to press my face against it, exhale a splotch of moisture and draw a smiley face.

To me, talking to the audience seemed like a symptom of summer. I pitched a column centered around campus. Skipping graduation, doing the naked run fully clothed — the majority of my ideas centered around making fun of the campus that was so visibly around us.

Dwinelle’s air conditioning had no weight when the student body was scattered from coast to coast, country to country. My Carol Christ jokes had nothing to land on. And so, I started talking to them directly, pleading, do you still feel this way too?

“Berkeley!” The exit sign seemed to shout at me. Startled, I slowed down, turned, and watched the world I’ve spent the last three years in unfurl before me.

In the lonely moments of summer, I made a habit of zooming out of my Snap Map to see friends sprinkled across the globe. Now, I was comforted as those far-flung faces started to make their way back to the bay.

The newcomers were the most noticeable, walking with their necks craned upward, usually with a parent or two in tow. They lugged mattresses and rolling chairs covered in clothing up Durant. I saw a mom leading her freshman around by the hand, as he bounced around and marveled at the world he was about to dive into.

What would I say to those baby bears, bubbling with nerves and excitement?

This is the best I can do: Don’t make the mistake of believing this life is meant to be serious. You know this already, I see the GBO groups tittering with smiles and laughter. But don’t lose it. Hold tight to your belief that the world is open for play. 

Step on the seal. Puff pretzel cigarettes. Sing into the void.

Because at the end of the day, that’s all we have — the faces we draw on dusty car windows, the doodles that make lecture bearable. Our music, our magic, our soul.

As I pulled into the apartment complex that will be my home for the next year, my seniority felt heavier than usual. I could see graduation in the distance, barrelling toward me at full tilt.

Whether my time at Cal ends with quiet resignation, a standing ovation or simply a puff of smoke, these articles will forever be a part of who I am. I hope they can do for you what they’ve done, so lovingly, for me.

I appreciate the time we’ve gotten to spend together. Through all the stumbling and spiraling, wrestling my thoughts to the page, I want to thank you, dear reader, for bearing with me.

Contact Luke Stiles at 

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AUGUST 18, 2022