Collections, Objects, Memory by Catherine Valdez

Illustration by Gisela Levy

Illustration by Gisela Levy

As my last semester at Columbia comes to a close and senior-move-out nears, I am thinking of all the things I must pack up. Things that have occupied my room for the last few years, that have become inseparable from my concept of a safe place. Books; paintings; reams of fabric that have leaned against my wall and slowly been replaced as projects come and go; the winter sweaters laid over my desk chair that’ll lose their purpose as I move back home; a second-hand teal cabinet full of India-inks, markers, embroidery floss and other art supplies I use with less frequency as assignments pile up; a windowsill and suite filled with stuffed animals my suitemates and I have ascribed elaborate, sometimes hilarious or inappropriate personalities to; a door covered in doodles, quotes and sticky-notes; a dachshund-patterned box I’ve been throwing loose buttons and pins in since perpetuity; a small herd of plants that have sadly (mostly) died under my friends’ collective care. The list goes on. My love for things (and what they become as they age with you) cannot be contained by a list.

Mostly because I was curious, I made this post about collections and things. I asked Quarto staff what objects they’ve accumulated and why these things have become important to them:      

  • While this collection is somewhat intangible, the songs and playlists I have accumulated this year have made my Columbia experience incredibly meaningful. I always have associated songs with people, places, and periods within my life, and I have realized even more so in college how important this sort of 'collection' has been for me. When I listen to certain artists, I am immediately transported to special memories with friends.

  • I have notes written by friends, ticket stubs and cards. I am very sentimental so I like keeping stuff like that. The clothes I have accumulated since moving here are evidence of my changing style and how NYC has affected me. :)

  • A clay pig made by one of my friends, a Chinese Horoscope book, and flowers :) They all represent some of my most cherished friendships.

  • I am the type of person who accumulates lots of things, from tickets and brochures I can’t bring myself to throw away to fancy soda bottles and dried flowers and cute, otherwise useless doodads. Some of the objects I’ve come to value most, however, are the art pieces that live on my wall. Some prints have been up since my first year at Columbia, poorly stuck to the walls of my John Jay single, and will be with me all the way through my senior year. Others, I have picked up along the way, at book fairs and art festivals, at the MET (I try to buy a postcard every time I go) and the Brooklyn Museum. Some have been given to me as gifts, and others I bought myself on a whim, looking to add a splash of color to my white walls. All this art makes my tiny room feel much more like a home, and it is comforting to look at my collection every day and remember the stories behind each piece.

  • Lots of pictures (polaroids and physical pictures people have given me) which remind me of all the memories and relationships I've formed. I also have free branded Columbia T-Shirts which often reminds me that Columbia is a prominent capitalist force and is not so slyly preparing us for corporate life. I own snow clothes/gear (?!) which is wild, as I've lived in the South my entire life. I've also collected more books than I can count, and that represents all the incredible perspectives I've been fortunate enough to interact with here. I've also collected train tickets because I had never gone on a train before coming here–tickets to Connecticut, New Jersey, etc.

  • Every year I seem to accumulate an exorbitant number of postcards. Though I don't send nearly as many as I intend to, I love the idea of them, the blend of art and correspondence. There's something romantic to the whole process, at least to me. They're also a great record of where I've been, and where I hope to go.

Catherine has been a staff editor on Quarto for the past four years. This is her first blog post. Check out her Senior Spotlight on our social media in the days to come!

Books that Make Us Nostalgic by TJ Gill

Illustration by Dora O’Neill & Charlie Blodnieks

Illustration by Dora O’Neill & Charlie Blodnieks

This list is composed of books, which broached a sense of childhood nostalgia within the members of our staff. I wanted to discuss this topic in this week’s blog post because a few weeks ago, I was thinking about The Perks of Being a Wallflower—a poignant coming of age story that meant a lot to me in high school. This moment then brought on a sense of curiosity as to what types of books other members of the staff associated with their adolescence and childhood.

  • A Bad Case of Stripes

  • The Mysterious Benedict Society, poems by Shel Silverstein, Goodnight Moon, The Very Hungry Caterpillar

  • Bridge to Terabithia, Where the Red Fern Grows, Ella Enchanted, The Golden Compass

  • Goodnight Moon, Love You Forever, The Giving Tree, Junie B Jones Series, Geronimo Stilton Series, Madeline

  • The House on Mango Street, anything by Roald Dahl or Lois Lowry

  • Magic Treehouse, the Molly Moon series, Harry Potter, Hunger Games

  • The Westing Game, Harry Potter, Harriet the Spy, Goosebumps

  • Fantasy books of all kinds really take me back, whether they are chapter books I read in elementary school or YA novels about dragons or quests. The Magic Treehouse, Secrets of Droon, The Golden Compass, Eragon. Roald Dahl’s entire canon. Harry Potter always invokes in me a deep, visceral sense of nostalgia that will most definitely stay with me for the rest of my life. I also feel so much nostalgia for the books whose titles I don’t remember, that I read and loved and then put down and never saw again. Those were the books that completely immersed and sustained me for a few hours, and back then that was all I needed from a reading experience.

Liberal Arts and Self-worth by Jane Paknia

Illustration by Charlie Blodnieks

Illustration by Charlie Blodnieks


In three weeks, I will have finished my first year as a college student. There are many significant differences between my understanding of myself now and that understanding just one year ago, as I finalized my college decisions and considered my place in this world.

The toughest one to confront is that I arrived at school with the confidence of someone that doesn’t know how little they know, and now... I do. It’s a fascinating concept that I and many students with the privilege to pursue a higher education can attest to called the Dunning-Kruger effect:

Courtesy of The Decision Lab

Courtesy of The Decision Lab


Before I came to college I was at peak confidence. Four core classes later, after a year-long staff editorship at Quarto, participation in a Columbia jazz combo, after endless conversations that could start with “Do we even have original thoughts?” or “What are we doing here?” I find it far more difficult now to muster up the self-confidence it takes to create, even though I feel like I know so much more than I did a year ago.

This critical experience of self-actualization is daunting, and I know it is not singular to me. As someone who enjoys and values creativity (a writer and musician), the endless questioning and the consistent reminders of time passing can feel overwhelming.

The more you think about how little you know and how much the world has to offer that you’re missing out on, it can feel like you’re just throwing yourself further down a rabbit hole, further from the originality and innovativeness it takes to be creative or inspired. But I, along with my Quarto colleagues, have some ways of nurturing self-confidence as opposed to doubt, to make the process of self-discovery and interest-finding something invigorating instead of something that is anxiety inducing.

1.) Speaking to loved ones–these are the people who know you for who you are, and whose understanding or even slight words of reassurance can change your entire perspective, remind you of yourself.

2.) Speaking to professors and figures you look up to–professors on campus are an underutilized resource! When you’re experiencing anxiety or confusion about picking courses of study or envisioning a path for yourself, why not consult the scholars who make us question our place in the world?

3.) Reminding yourself of what you enjoy–this one is more difficult than it sounds. Try making a list of things that have made you laugh/smile/want to create and encourage yourself to do those things more often. People on Quarto enjoy drinking tea, making art, spending time with friends, watching TV, reading the newspaper, listening to podcasts, writing freely (with no other motive), and doing yoga as pleasant ways to spend free time.

4.) Reflecting on how little you need to have figured out by now–think of the diverse paths that other successful, admirable people have taken and the struggles they faced. College isn’t a race, and neither is your life afterwards. Work within your own time zone, your own spirit, your own flow.

5.) Enjoy your small successes–this is crucial! As Neeraj said in his recent blog post, “Birthdays and Getting Older,” it’s very difficult to live your life without future you in mind. Try breathing, taking life day by day, setting small goals as opposed to colossal ones, and appreciating your successes as they come.

Everyone I’ve met at college, whether through classes, extracurriculars, or outside the school environment completely, has had something they deserve to be proud of, a story that only they can tell, a voice to be heard. I sincerely hope that all of us, embarking on this confusing, strange, and unique journey, can discover just what it is that they deserve to be confident about.

Jane Paknia is a staff editor on Quarto. This is her first blog post.


The right time to write: How Quarto members make time for writing by Tamarah Wallace

Illustration by Gisela Levy

Illustration by Gisela Levy

Upon arriving at college, I was immediately overwhelmed by the new sense of freedom and the accompanying onslaught of engagements. Writing for me had always turned into a lengthy affair, similar to binge watching a show, where it became difficult to find any suitable stopping place. Since I felt that I had to carve out hours and hours at a minimum for this activity, I would neglect to put it on my schedule, and sometimes wouldn’t even be in the mindset to write during the time I scheduled.

However, I have realized that writing is a vital part of my life and making time for it doesn’t have to feel intrusive. I find that when the urge strikes it’s best to just commence writing right then. If there is a deadline that you must meet for schoolwork or otherwise, definitely don’t dismiss it and complete your work. But if not, write and then plan the rest of your engagements around the time that you have lost. Set a maximum writing time for the week and each time that you write, no matter for how long, subtract the time from that quota.

Thus, you will have a spontaneous writing schedule that keeps you from also getting carried away!

Here are other ways Quarto kids make time for writing:

“Since I primarily write nonfiction, I find it very easy to integrate into my schedule as a self-care exercise, akin to journaling. That being said, time definitely gets away from me. So, I like to allocate time in my schedule (usually on weekends) to get away from campus on my own and I always bring my notebook with me! I usually end up writing during this time.”

“On some days, I actually schedule it into my day and plan for it. Other days, the creative energy is just bursting out of me and I put everything on hold to write the piece. I think making time means priorities, and we just need to start looking at creative projects as important and essential to our human experience.”

“I go somewhere with no internet like Hungarian with the intention of writing. The tone of a place really influences my productivity!”

“I either decide to commit when I have an idea and flesh it out in that moment, or other times, I dedicate an afternoon in a coffee shop or something.”

“I try to write things down as they come to me, even if it's just a word or an idea. I often find myself thinking ‘I don't need to write that down, I'll remember it’ and then realizing that I've lost that idea when I finally sit down to write it out. Similarly, I try to make time for writing when the mood strikes, because I produce better work when I'm in the mindset of ‘I'm going to create something.’”

“Even though I’m a creative writing major, I find it incredibly difficult to make time for writing in my free time. I tend to write more when under pressure, so I am glad to have been in a workshop both semesters this year, and to have to take two more before I graduate. It is still sometimes difficult to get myself to sit down and write for my workshops, however, but I try to eliminate all distractions and go someplace private and quiet. I’ve noticed that I write worse when there are people around or I feel watched, so I do what I can to create the best environment for me. I’ve also learned to be less stringent about how I approach a story, so I skip around a lot, get rid of things I’ve already written, and prioritize getting words down on page the first time around rather than spending too much time trying to make everything perfect.”

Tamarah Wallace is a staff editor on Quarto. This is her first blog post.

Birthdays and Getting Older by Neeraj Ramachandran

        After my twentieth birthday last summer, I was able to put my finger on a sensation that had been bothering me for quite some time. It was the feeling that each new year I was adding to my life was more insignificant than the last. From 2016 to 2019, I have been in the same place, doing the same thing, and planning on continuing to do so at least until 2020. Very little seems to have changed.

        I found that I could account for this feeling by a surprisingly dry truth about numbers. If you take the years you have lived and add another year, each new year you add will increase the years you have lived by a smaller proportion than did the one before it. Turning two means doubling the years you have lived. Turning twenty means adding only a small fraction. As it turns out, each year of my life is literally less significant than the one that came before.

Illustration by Sophie Levy

Illustration by Sophie Levy

Once I had a concrete explanation for this emotion I was feeling, I couldn’t help but see this as a confirmation for how I felt about the past. It explained why I had such extreme memories of the apartment complex I lived in until I was three years old. The community pool was massive (big enough to almost drown in), the monkey bars could never be reached, the ten year old neighbors were full-grown adults. When my family drove through the complex on a whim about a year back, I could not recognize one piece of it. It felt tiny and insular. I resolved in that moment to never forget the version of the neighborhood I had in my head, because I knew that there is no place in the world where that version still exists.

        This way of thinking is dizzying and self-reinforcing. It has become extremely easy for me to convince myself that clinging wistfully to my past is a product of an objective truth: that our life becomes longer in length each year, that we have more to remember, and that we get older. And in that conviction, I enable myself to see the world with a complacent sort of nostalgia, one in which I continue to reject the present only until it is something I can look back on, at which point I hold on to it fiercely. Until now, I have seen this almost as a merit, as the ability to evoke places or impressions in my memory and to appreciate their beauty in retrospect. But I’ve come to realize—and now truly believe—that this viewpoint can be dangerous. It can teach us to distort the way we experience the world by waiting for something to be behind us before we are allowed to appreciate it.

        I encourage those who read this, as well as myself, to not take this as an imperative to focus more on living in the present. We have all heard this advice countless times, and we know for a fact that it is not always possible to heed it. How we can we deny that we might derive pleasure from seeing the world through a backward-facing lens, even if doing so is self-destructive? After all, certain places and people from our lives can now only exist in memory. Instead, I encourage us to color some of our foresight with the richness and precision of our hindsight. In ten years, there’s a good chance that the mundanity and normalcy of our current lives will be a beautiful memory in our head. Why wait ten years? Maybe what our ten-year-older self sees in it, we have the ability to see right now.

Neeraj Ramachandran is currently a staff editor for Quarto. This is his first blog post.

Surefire Ways to Cure Writer's Block by Willa Cuthrell-Tuttleman

Can’t even begin to start writing that 15-page story due next week for workshop? Struggling to navigate the thin line between beautiful and pretentious for your next poem? Just generally paralyzed by the vast and daunting entity otherwise known as The Blank Word Document? Have no fear! The following list can hopefully give you a better and more productive way to procrastinate as you debate over whether to name your character Anna or Ana.

Read More

Reducing Your Carbon Footprint by The Quarto Staff

Here at Quarto, we’re always having conversations about how to be better humans and how to help the Earth that suffers at the hands of so many human and corporate forces. Below is a list of the ways our editors reduce their carbon footprints in their daily lives in order to be more environmentally friendly:

We want to know what our readers do to be more environmentally friendly as well. Please write to us @columbiaquarto on Insta & Twitter!

Illustration by Charlie Blodnieks

Illustration by Charlie Blodnieks

  • I always bring my own travel mug and water bottle to dining halls/restaurants/coffee shops where I regularly purchase food!

  • I put my food scraps in a brown paper bag in my freezer/fridge and compost them at the farmer's market on Broadway! (Thursdays 8 a.m.-3 p.m. & Sundays 8 a.m.-1 p.m.!)

  • I reduce my single use plastics by not taking plastic utensils/straws from restaurants and try to reduce my consumption of plastic-packaged foods!

  • I ask for no lid at Dig Inn and Sweetgreen!

  • I floss with string floss instead of the small, plastic picks!

  • I talk with my friends and on-campus communities about how we can make environmentally friendly decisions as consumers! (Like reducing consumption of meat & plastic!)

  • I write my representatives in Congress to urge them to support legislation that increases regulation of the corporations that contribute to the majority of fossil fuel emissions!

  • Recycle!

  • My long-term goal is to generate zero waste. Working toward that, I use bamboo toothbrushes, buy toiletries that come in recyclable/compostable packaging, use reusable produce bags for fruit/veg, and try to bring my own cutlery to dining halls. I'm also trying to be more conscious about where I buy my clothes from and what items I buy. Oh and I eat a vegan diet!

  • I turn lights off in public spaces (like dorm bathrooms or lounges) when they aren't being used. I carry a reusable bag and water bottle. I am trying to start waste-free Wednesdays!

  • I requested an extra bin from Hartley so I can separate my plastics/glass from paper products more easily!  

  • Use glass tupperware, ceramic plates, and metal silverware to diminish plastic use.

  • I always use a reusable water bottle, and I try and be aware of my heat and water use.

  • I am conscious of how much water I run and turn off the sink when I'm not actively using it!

  • Reduce plastic use!

  • Cut out animal products! Know where your food comes from!

  • Pay attention to climate policy and become an earth activist!

  • Walk barefoot in the grass and be thankful for all this planet does for us!

What are you listening to? by The Quarto Staff

Illustration by Charlie Blodnieks

Illustration by Charlie Blodnieks

We’re back at school after winter break, and as you all know, it’s colder than ever. This week, the staff compiled what we’re listening to on our way to class as we brave the chilly weather. We’re always curious to hear what people are listening to–from favorite podcasts, long-time music loves to the latest new releases. Tweet at us or comment on our Instagram (@columbiaquarto for both!) to share what’s playing through your headphones!

This is what we’ve been streaming:


  • Did someone say “Juice” by Lizzo?...Really all of Lizzo’s discography!

  • Maggie Rogers’ new album

  • “This Night Has Opened My Eyes” by The Smiths, “Carmensita” by Devendra Barnhart, “Generation Why” by Weyes Blood

  • I've been experiencing a Frank Ocean revival recently.

  • “400 Lux” by Lorde

  • Maggie Rogers' new album Heard It in a Past Life, Billie Holiday, Leon Bridges, a whole lot of love songs to keep my heart warm, and Frank Ocean for the necessary angst.

  • “Hunnybee” by Unknown Mortal Orchestra

  • Grateful Dead's “Workingman's Dead” & Noname's “Room 25”

  • Omar Khorshid

  • “This Will Be Our Year” by The Zombies

  • “Roll Some Mo and Karma” by Lucky Daye

  • “Sunflower” from the Spiderman: Into the Spider-verse soundtrack!

  • “Bookstore Girl” by Charlie Burg and the entirety of the Mamma Mia! soundtracks on repeat.

  • “Shark Smile” by Big Thief and “Sweet Jane” by The Velvet Underground

Want more recommendations? Listen to our staff-curated Spotify playlist! We update the playlist bi-weekly, so be sure to follow the playlist for recommendations all semester.


  • Still Processing with Wesley Morris and Jenna Wortham from the NYT. They're back and better than ever with their new season!

  • Slow Burn by Slate about the Nixon impeachment

  • Ear Hustle–produced by men and volunteers in San Quentin Prison!

  • NPR’s Code Switch

  • Borns

  • Invisibilia

  • Storycorps

  • I’m super into murder podcasts, mainly My Favorite Murder. I also listen to Last Podcast on the Left & Still Processing!

  • Buffering the Vampire Slayer

  • Song Exploder–musicians take apart their song and talk about how it was made!

  • NPR’s Morning Edition while I get ready for class and catching up on old episodes of the podcast Lore on Spotify

Winter Reading List by The Quarto Staff

After a long semester, we find that there is no greater pleasure than indulging in reading ~for fun~. It has become a Quarto tradition to have a book swap at our final meeting of the semester, where each editor brings in one of their favorite reads to share with our Quarto friends. We decided to put together a "Quarto Winter Break Reading List" from what went down in our book swap in case you need some inspiration this winter. Have a restful break, and we wish you a happy and healthy holiday season!

Illustration by Charlie Blodnieks

Illustration by Charlie Blodnieks

  • Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

  • Black Skin, White Masks by Frantz Fanon

  • The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

  • The Color of Water by James McBride

  • The Emissary by Yoko Tawada

  • Flights by Olga Tokarczuk

  • Floating, Brilliant, Gone by Franny Choi

  • Horseradish by Lemony Snicket

  • The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

  • The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

  • I’m Not Here by G. Wong

  • [insert] boy by Danez Smith

  • Look by Solmaz Sharif

  • Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby by Donald Barthelme

  • The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

  • The Sport of the Gods by Paul Laurence Dunbar

  • Tenth of December by George Saunders

  • The Uncensored Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

  • When My Brother Was An Aztec by Natalie Diaz

  • The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor

Caring for yourself when stuff sucks! by The Quarto Staff

We are living in a time where unthinkable acts of hatred are occurring everyday in the news. It’s a time when the safety of our bodies and identities are currently under pressure. A few of our editors have put together a list of the ways that they’ve been caring for their physical and mental health and well-being. We hope you enjoy our self-care habits. Please let us know the way you care for yourself in these trying times.

Illustration by Charlie Blodnieks

Illustration by Charlie Blodnieks

  1. First, I usually cry, because crying is cathartic for me. I typically need to completely break down before I can form coherent thoughts about a stress-inducing situation. Sometimes while I'm crying I write, in an attempt to purge my feelings as messily and quickly as possible. I might reach out to a friend to distract myself from whatever hurts by soaking in the presence of another person. Occasionally I immerse myself in TV, or a book, and try to be fully present and focused on that activity. Ultimately, I usually find it most valuable to speak with others directly about what's causing me anxiety or pain, and to work through those feelings together, because it is reassuring to know that others are going through the same thing as you and that you are not alone in your emotions.

  2. I surround myself with the people that I love, whether that includes calling my mom or brothers or drinking tea/coffee with friends. Also, music always makes me feel more calm or at peace, so often I'll just turn on one of my favorite Spotify playlists.

  3. I try to meditate in the morning because it helps me clear my head. Throughout the day, I’m always thinking and worrying about classes, friends, etc., but those 5-10 minutes in the morning are a chance to just be rather than do.

  4. Sometimes I don't know the answer to that question, and I think that can be what makes the times tough. Because I know I can't always figure things out/feel better on my own, I try to be in the presence of those whom I care about and who I know care about me. I usually feel more positive energy afterwards to get through the obstacles I'm facing.

  5. I get out of New York and go home, or to a friend’s house, or into nature (urban parks, man). I take a really luxurious shower.

  6. Journaling, writing poetry, being alone and rejuvenating, calling home.

  7. I try to find moments to let myself breathe and get away from things that are causing me stress. I'll take a more scenic route to or from something, go on a walk to listen to some new music I've found, or take a few minutes to just look out of my window and appreciate where I live and why I'm here. I think taking little moments for yourself is a good way to center your thoughts and put things in perspective. A few minutes for yourself can never hurt.

  8. During times of high stress I buy a bag of Hot Cheetos, take off my pants (because I hate pants and find them oppressive towards my environmental vibe), and do something wholesome on my laptop. My personal choices are usually either watching Game of Thrones or reading terrible queer Harry Potter fan-fiction.

  9. Being okay with isolating myself when I need it. Even from politics, which tends to make me feel socially irresponsible.

  10. My therapist has encouraged me to think about what I value doing, rather than what I "should" be doing, when I'm feeling stressed. For me, this means prioritizing time for self-care (which often means sleep, well-cooked meals, Netflix, exercise, solitude, or time with friends), communicating with and spending time with family and friends, exploring NYC, and then finishing the schoolwork that brings me some joy (usually creative writing or reading). While of course sometimes it's crunch time and you just have to get stuff done, I try to give myself rewards for working hard and spend time planning ahead so I don't get into situations that are too stressful. Plus, music! Listening to music can make any difficult time a little bit easier.

Answers from our staff were collected and compiled by Blog Editor Alison Peebles.