Max Christensen

Alissa (via FB messenger): Yo I need to interview you for a Her Campus article what are your thoughts on that?

Max (via FB messenger): I can come down or you can come up?

I have no desire to leave the comfort of my undersized couch, but climbing the one flight of stairs to Max’s room is a small place to pay for the added genuinity of allowing Max to talk about himself in his natural habitat. I grab a bag of Tropical Skittles and head up, confident that offering him candy will divert attention from my complete lack of preparation.

In any event, allowing Max to set the parameters for our discussion is probably the only way to successfully conduct this interview. Subjecting him to conventional methods of discovering and illustrating who someone is, would be as misguided as it would be futile.

When I get to his room he is perched on his bed, and excitedly welcomes me in. He needs very little prompting to get going.

Max: I was working on a song the other day. There’s this part where it’s like ‘Poly poly poly, all my friends poly’. Because really...almost everyone I know is polyamorous.

Polyamorous is a word that I have heard floating around Grinnell lately, and I’m delighted that Max has selected this as our starting point.

Max: Whenever I’m making music I like to make it about my experience...or just something...you know, real. I really like reality. Cause you can make it sound awesome! And if your reality’s not awesome…. that’s like a sign of….

Alissa: A sign of what Max?

I giggle, hopefully goading him into revealing an especially outrageous viewpoint.

Max: A sign of discord.  

His pin-point precision of language foils my plot, but I urge him to continue nonetheless.

Max: Unnecessary discord. You know that Kanye quote where he’s on Dave Chappelle, and someone calls him, and he answers and is like: Can’t talk right now, I’m on Dave Chappelle, ‘cause I do awesome stuff with my life. And you know what, that’s what you gotta do. No reason to not do that.

Max nods assuredly.

Alissa: So you’ve done an inductive proof on why you should do awesome stuff.

I don’t really know what an inductive proof is, but it sounds like what he just said might be it, and will serve as a nice segway into my probe of Max’s internal struggles with being a math major.

Alissa: You know, you always complain about Math on a surface level, but I’ve never heard you talk about how you really feel.

Max: Mostly I just don’t like doing work.

Max giggles, but I hurriedly brush past his charm to get to the meat.

Alissa: No, come on. Tell me about the discipline of Math.

Max rolls his eyes and relents.

Max: What I get from math is an amazing problem solving style. You know, all the disciplines... those are constructed. I mean, knowledge is continuous. So these disciplines, they not only contain subject material, but also an approach to that material. That’s why like, physics majors have a specific personality and problem solving style. Academia is just full of big cliques.

I smile. Max articulates his enthusiasm almost as well as his points. Like academia, his content is worthwhile, but it’s his delivery that gives it weight.

Alissa: What’s the relationship between the content you study and the way you come to see the world?

Max: Well, I see numbers as something that’s man made. An artifact of human conceptualization strategy. Humans conceptualize things in two ways: they categorize and label. Meaning they put things in groups, and also name them. Math is about applying that in a raw sense. It’s something we entirely made up.

Alissa: 2+2=4

Max stares at me inquisitively and I am quickly embarrassed. 2+2=4 is probably not what they do in Math class and likely has no place in this discussion.

Alissa: I’m just trying to find an example to apply your theory to. Like you’re saying everything is made up, but 2+2 seems pretty real. I guess I just don’t….so like what do you do in Math?

Max nods patiently.

Max: Basically, you try to prove big things. So half of your homework is doing proofs, and half of it is proving there exists a monkey wrench that ruins the proof.

Alissa: Sometimes you talk about a tension between problem solving and creating.

Max: Well actually, the best creating involves problem solving .

This is classic Max: not missing a beat, uniquely tying together concepts, a concise and memorable lead-in.

Max: The best example I can think of is Rollercoaster Tycoon. So in Rollercoaster Tycoon you can always make better rides if you give yourself tough terrain. Like you can give yourself flat land, and a lot of it. But that’s a recipe for….really boring things to happen. You are flirtin’ with danger there. When you’re gonna really excel, is when you have to come up with creative solutions.

...I like trying to create something and encountering a problem. That’s when I'm most motivated to deal with problems. Like problem sets for math...I just don’t have any investment in them.

Alissa: What are some things you like to create?

Max: I like to create a healthy environment around me.

Alissa: Why?

Max: Because I can. Because it’s better than creating a bad one. People always say stuff like: we don’t say I love you to enough people. But honestly just like...start saying it. And watch as people respond. You can really help people make their time better.

Alissa: What are your favorite things to do? Maybe limit yourself to three.

Max: I like to think big ideas. Mostly I enjoy feeling like a vessel. It’s like, anyone could have thought these ideas. But I feel honored to be thinking them. And excited that other people think the same ideas as me. Nothing makes me more excited than that.

Max: I like to feel sad. Because what’s the point in being like, ‘Oh my god I hate that I’m…. hating everything’. Might as well try to subvert that. I like to enjoy the world. But when I’m depressed...there is no world around me. It’s empty. So even when everything is grey and gloomy I try to say: well I guess I like grey and gloomy things.

Alissa: So feeling sad is about retaining agency.

Max: Yeah. I’ve heard of people naming their mental disorders, like eating disorders for example, and I really like that. Because it really is like fighting with another person who has totally different ideas for you. So it’s definitely about retaining agency over that other person.

Max: And third...I like to make other people super happy. It’s pretty easy...people are easy to please. And the ones who aren’t…. you should go find ones that are.

I scribble furiously in my notebook that I carry around everywhere. Max pulls out his and thumbs through it. I smile-- I spent much of last semester encouraging him to get one, on account of my firm belief that no lunatic should be without a thought journal.

Max: It’s so funny to see how this has happened. The things that are in here are...messages to me. But the way that it’s all put together...it’s weird that this is how I format it. You know what, I’m a customizer. I’m gonna f--- with all the options.

Alissa: And find the best one.

Max: It’s not even the best...

I retract my statement immediately and apologize for projecting.

Alissa: Right, you’re customizer, not an optimizer. So, tell me about life back home.

Max: My town is really outdoorsy. I love the outdoors. My friends from home... they would always be doing outdoors stuff. It’s just interesting, because a lot of people here like Netflix. And that’s not to say I don’t, I definitely Internet a lot. But the stuff I do at home, that’s what I really like. Backyard hiking. Week long bike trips. Rock climbing on real rocks. Ice climbing. Spelunking. I love spelunking. This one time we got caught out in the rain. Well actually, it was a flash flood. We were in this canyon, it was like Jurassic Park. Water pouring in all around us. That was fun. I liked that. I think a lot of people here probably wouldn’t.

Alissa: Is it really that people wouldn’t like that kind of stuff or are they just afraid?

Max: I think….that’s a false dichotomy.

I usually don’t like my dichotomies to be called false, but I make an exception for Max. After all, I’m sure he’s right, and he doesn’t mean anything by it.

Max: I don’t know. I think I was conditioned to like that...to see it as an act of freedom. But I would say for most people...it’s naturally displeasurable. Animals don’t really like to be in the rain.

Alissa: What do you think about old people?

Max: Dope. But I like kids better. They’re just a little more... naturally human. And their actions reveal a lot about adults, and what we have arbitrarily decided isn’t normal. For example, asking where do babies come from. Like why would you not...at what point did that become a secret? Like what if we hid eating and it was super impolite to ask about it? And people would be like, watching food porn.

I laugh hysterically as I usually do when Max expresses his views on social norms. He has always moved entirely independently from convention.

Max: Everything to me is totally absurd. This is my experience. This is all I see. But to answer your question, I guess my thoughts on old people are I hope I do it really well when I get there. I would say I hope I do me, but what if there’s something I find out I like even better than that?

Alissa: How did you decide who social Max was going to be?

Max: I don’t think that’s something you get to decide.

Alissa: So how does it happen?

Max: By not paying attention to the meta data of like how and why you’re doing what you’re doing. And just paying attention to the world around you. Your awareness of your own participation in your life isn’t really necessary. You should get lost in experiences. Which for me has become harder and harder. It’s strange and frustrating. But that’s why I love first time experiences. Like, think about how the first time you hear a song is totally different than every other time. It’s incredible. And after that, the joy then becomes to analyze. Like how incredible is this song? But I’ve worn that so thin.

Alissa: So first time experiences...freedom to experience without analyzing?

Max: Yeah. I wish I did more novel things. You know I hate schedules...whatever is happening is happening.

Alissa: What do you think about sports? Can we talk about team sports?

Max: Yes. Cause that’s the best. Sports are civilization plus play. And play is so important. It’s interesting. Sports give you a goal purely for the reward of completing the goal. And the rewards are great. Think about how you feel after winning a basketball game. And even during a game there are a ton of minor goals: successfully blocking, successfully getting to a position on time, scoring a basket. When you do them right you get all these little rewards pouring into you. It’s cheating nature. By adding in goals you don’t need to complete but you can, you get free feel goods.

Alissa: Luxury goals.

Max: Yeah but in a way, competitive sports is a risk. You’re wagering how good it would feel to win vs. what it would be like to lose. But since playing itself is quite a reward...

Alissa: It’s a very safe bet.

Alissa: The luxury part of humanity is weird. Like having more than you need.

Max: Well other animals that are super good at catching food, like dolphins, they’ll spend the whole day flirting. And they’ll do other stuff too like bully porpoises and help sea otters. And play games like pass the seaweed. Are those their luxuries?

Alissa: How come sometimes I feel privileged that I’m an American, or that I’m white, but I never feel privileged that I’m not….a porpoise?

Max: Oh, I actually just came up with a term for that. It’s called megafauna privilege. If you think about the scale of animal size, like from a centipede to a human…. we have no experience with animals that are terrifyingly larger. That’s a huge privilege. There are animals that never get to make noise. Their whole life they have to be careful. We don’t have to worry about that. But I guess I think about privilege strictly defined. It’s an advantage; something others simply do not have. You can never equally balance everything, so you should just check your privilege.

Alissa: What does that mean?

Max: Facing the awareness. Thinking about: what does it truly mean for me to have this ability, this advantage? And being thankful for the advantages you have. And sometimes you can be like, I don’t feel that this other person should lack this advantage, and I’m going to do something about it.

Alissa: Do we have an obligation to do something about it?

Max: I believe you have no obligations. But it’s very interesting what will make you happy. Which is helping other people. But another thing that can make you happy is doing you and not worrying about that type of thing.

Alissa: So what’s the difference between those types of people, the people who care and the people who don’t?

Max: It’s not a character thing. I came from a small town and the people...I’ll go back and listen to things they’re saying and be like oh that’s….that’s racist. Just really ignorant things. Like I don’t feel comfortable being out in my home town. But you know, it has nothing to do with people’s characters. People like to think of these people like they’re evil ‘cause they don’t care. They don’t care cause they don’t realize that they should. And the idea that they should is your idea.

This point resonates with me. What people sometimes neglect to consider is that in many ways, our empathy is a privilege.

Alissa: What’s the difference between girls and boys?

Max: I think it used to be leader and supporter. But now, it’s like a bomb went off in the current millennial culture and somehow in the attempt to empower girls, we just made a lot of more categories that girls could be good in. Like before, girls were supposed to be objectively beautiful, and good at cooking or whatever. But now you have to be smart, but also sexy, but also make your own money.

...Also, girls tend to be more individual. I think because they’re socialized to be more aware of their emotions. And their interactions with others, but interactions are just emotional exchanges. That’s probably why they get in a lot more fights, because they’re more individual.

...Guys have more social privilege, but unless you’re a leader you’re severely restricted. Society represses girls and guys repress themselves. You know, masculinity ruins it for everyone. Like the idea that if you’re not getting a lot of sex you’re bad, is the fuel behind everything.

Alissa: What do you think of conversations like these?

Max: In my current iteration of philosophy and self….not a huge fan. I’d rather participate. I guess I can contextualize it as participating in this discussion is part of my life but....

Alissa: You’re analyzing not experiencing?

Max: Yeah. It’s my belief that there’s no intrinsic meaning in everything, but you know what, it’s really incredible that there are things that you like and that you can like things. So as long as you’re here for no reason might as well play the game that makes you happy.

I have heard him talk about the self as a compilation of likes and dislikes before, and it always inspires me. To do what exactly, I’m not sure.

It is past 11, so I jot a few final notes and thank Max for his time. He walks me to the door.

Max: Should I go to sleep or do something I like to do?

I smile, thinking about our rollercoaster ride through humanity, privilege, sadness and ourselves. We both know exactly what he’s going to do.