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When emptiness grows a form: What our perspectives on fluff modules say about how to live.

Should fluff mods really just be "fluff"?



Stepping into SMU, there are a couple terms that float around your rippling pond of vocabulary. These words creep into life like moss to moisture – slowly but surely, we build a familiarity and community around these enigmatic critters.


However, there is one critter that bewilders us – The term “Fluff”. Being thrown around in many contexts – be it to diminish or to praise, it seems as SMU students, we fail to make our ultimate stance on what it truly means to take a fluff mod. Perhaps it is because we are blinded by our characterisations of it, like a thick mist coating our gaze.


Fluff modules are usually classes perceived to be easy to score in. Most of the time, they are lighter on technical skills, focusing on discursive elements to drive the lecture. Resultantly, these classes are left to be open ended in nature; no longer are answers determined by their degree of accuracy or resemblance. In fluff classes, answers are amorphous. Bound to change and evolve as conversations roll, there is “no right answer”. Both liberating and frightening, this lack of reference to the “most correct way” forces us to confront and answer for ourselves.


The rigidity epidemic: Why fluff becomes unwanted.


Today, expectations have mounted and the pressure to make perfect use of your time is suffocating. If a university education is framed as a means to be employed and survive in the rough waters of our global economy; not a second should be wasted in contemplation. As I’ve heard from friends or the whispers along school corridors: “Just tell me what to do”.


Ambiguity is scary to face. The diminishing of fluff modules reveals a much deeper change in the mindsets we as youths take towards learning and life at large (at no fault of our own).


Overstimulated and overworked, we are too exhausted to pay attention to anything anymore. It is here that we begin to desire structure; a consistent and solid framework one can refer to time and time again. Not needing to think, we simply do. Fill in the blanks, get this amount of marks. Speak once during a class and clock your class participation for a day. Lessons have transformed into a game of metrics and achievement – an objective ritual.


In writing, fluff is seen as filler, trivialities that need not be there to get the message across. Increasingly, to achieve our story of productivity, we cut these so-called embellishments for efficacy – emotions for agenda. Our perspectives on fluff mods embody our lack of familiarity with subjectivity, our exasperation with nuance. 


Letting go: Opening the door to fluff once again.


It is the in between that matters the most in life. As the father of Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki states in an interview:


"Instead of every movement being dictated by the story, sometimes people will just sit for a moment, or they will sigh, or look in a running stream, or do something extra, not to advance the story but only to give the sense of time and place and who they are. We have a word for that in Japanese. It's called ma (間). Emptiness. It's there intentionally.”

Ma (間) is the space for contemplation that fluff mods provide. Like the creeks that stream down to a grand lake, the similarity that all these bodies of water share is continuity and balance. Without soil and wind, water does not flow. Without water, we no longer feel the textured fissures nor unique ridges of the earth.  Fluff mods combine structure with flexibility to achieve this balanced ecosystem of the mind — a space which forms a narrative with spaces to breathe.


When we don’t take fluff mods seriously, we attempt to game the system by reminding ourselves that all of these words are just filler for the next objective. But, in not paying attention to fluff, we lose awareness of how it has always been held within our skeletal frames. As people, we feel hollowed out and empty. Losing sight of trivialities and little moments; like feeling the kiss of the sun on your skin, or the way your friend’s eyes squint in a particular manner when she laughs – we fail to see our lives for all of the small fluffy parts that compose it.


Whether consciously or not, our engagement with fluff reflects our willingness to let go of structure and embrace the dizzying mist of ambiguity. In facing the fluff, we must be intentionally open, to make space for ma (間); this is the most difficult but rewarding step.


As such, I implore you: Let go of your structures, predispositions, deep seated fears and desires. Make space for nuance and complexity. It is only then, where you will begin to notice the slow and  comforting warmth of fluff.


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