By Sofia Pirri
On Aug. 26, 2023, Chambit Miller, CC ’24, was at a fried chicken restaurant in Lima. Surrounded by her Peruvian lover and his friends, she suddenly remembered a dream in which she died and felt herself being pulled into a vague light source. Boarding her flight home that night, Chambit convinced herself the premonition was real: the plane would surely crash. Under the influence of this dark conviction and her recent reading of Camus, she began to write. Thankfully, Chambit survived. Her journal of philosophical musings remains intact.
I met Chambit several days before the start of freshman year, when we moved in together. In our dingy apartment, the neon pinks and purples of her incense-scented room created an oasis. My other roommate and I would gather like children on her bed, listening to her talk about film or regale us with absurd tales of her high school shenanigans. She can seamlessly weave her innate sense of humor with profundity. “If you don’t have humor, how can you survive in this world?” she asks. “You know, Sisyphus should have made a few jokes.”
Others may know Chambit through her role as president of Columbia’s literary fraternity, Alpha Delta Phi. You might have seen her rolling a cigarette on Low in Tabis and an orange leather jacket, sharing the fruits of her labor with a small entourage. Or perhaps you’ve run into her in line at a club, where you waited for hours and she waltzed in with a few words to the bouncer.
To some, her presence is beguilingly enigmatic. But Chambit rejects the label. “I feel like I’m an open book,” she explains. Minutes later, she opens her journal and unabashedly reads me her Lima doomsday entry. “I’ve really lived my life. The only thing I would be regretful about is not having experienced love and an orgasm.” She takes a beat. “You can put that in there.” Chambit’s frankness doesn’t detract from the enigma, it enhances it. How could someone so honest retain such a marked air of inscrutability?
For starters, Chambit seems to be on the cutting edge of everything: indie film, hyper pop, edgelord memes, and the Brooklyn rave scene. Her extreme cultural awareness belies her own work as well. A recent painting called Hunter Biden Smoking Crack in a Sensory Deprivation Tank is a perfect example of the way in which Chambit doesn’t just have her finger on the pulse of the generation; she moves a beat faster.
In addition to visual art, Chambit is also a filmmaker. She is producing a documentary tracking the effects of gentrification on three Lower East Side families. Chambit’s refusal to constrain herself to a single medium brings both anxiety and opportunity. Though she fears becoming a master of none, she finds comfort in a piece of advice from a friend: You live your life as your artistic medium. “I want to live a more project-oriented lifestyle,” Chambit tells me. Such projects include running a bed-and-breakfast and founding “the Miller Institute of Excellence—a private, for-profit education.” This seeming irony is underscored by an acute awareness of economic possibility. “You can do so much with money,” she explains.
Therein lies the crux of the enigma. Though she has a strong desire for authenticity and creative autonomy, Chambit’s quest for tangible success compels her to commercialize herself. And she is surprisingly good at it. The first result of a Google search for “Chambit Miller” is her own professional website. Her LinkedIn has 500+ connections and details an impressive array of internship and student group experience. Her bio: “I do many things” (no punctuation). In short, Chambit has learned to commodify her vibe. I noticed a barely perceptible shift in her demeanor the moment I began recording. Upon a standard request for pronouns, Chambit turns her uncertainty into a bit: “She/her. Uh, she/him! Wait.” She lets out a raucous giggle. “On the low, I’m she/him because most times I am she/her but sometimes I am him.” When I ask if she considers herself an artist, she takes a long drag of her hand-rolled cigarette while pondering her response. Though this persona often borders on pastiche, it is indicative of her ingenious ability to mix the earnest with the delightfully satirical.
I wonder if Chambit would defend her own ability to self-commodify. She is saddened by her younger brother’s dream of an easy-money job and disappointed by Columbia students’ lack of revolutionary thinking. “I thought people were going to want to change the world here.” Instead, Columbia taught her about consulting. While Chambit may disparage the more corporate strain of materialistic pessimism, she remains motivated by the fast-approaching doom of post-grad life. Chambit has found a way to navigate this paradox with a recent passion project: her collective production group Xenia, named after the Greek principle of hospitality.
Recent events include a music video shoot with hyper-pop duo MGNA Crrrta and concerts with Xaviersobased, Clara Joy, and Frankie Cosmos. The last few times I’ve spoken with her, Chambit has been consumed with writing workshops, auditions, and rehearsals for Xenia’s Columbia debut: a three-act haunted house play based on research from ADP’s archives. Through the collective, Chambit has built a project to which she can devote herself professionally while also establishing her dream of a diverse, boundary-pushing creative community.
Of course, no account of Chambit would be complete without examining her role in the literary fraternity itself. When I walked over to the 114th brownstone for a jazz night, I found her playing security guard on the stoop in a plaid robe, hoodie, and crocs, ushering a stream of students out onto the street. She told me the event was ending because several members were downtown supporting someone in legal trouble. Before I knew what was happening, she had already called an Uber to the courthouse. Why bother going so late at night, I asked. Surely no official court proceedings could take place at such an hour. She shrugged. “All of my kids are there.” The family she has forged within the society is perhaps the strongest testimony of Chambit’s capacity to create something tangible and lasting.
Despite her propensity for leadership, Chambit constantly swaps her trademark brash confidence for self-doubt. After every inflammatory one-liner, she adds, “Wait, don’t say that,” or “Is that cancellable?”, and, ultimately, “You can write about this, fuck it.” Chambit agonizes over her legacy. Her morbid journal entry from Lima this summer makes sense given this underlying existential anxiety. When I ask Chambit what scares her the most in life, she bluntly confirms my suspicions: “dying with regrets.”
During the historic 2022 European heat wave, Chambit walked the Camino de Santiago with zero physical preparation. She went to figure out the purpose of her life. Let’s hear it, I say, and she gives me a working definition. The temptation to share it here is strong, but I remember how quickly she changes her mind. No, I cannot put her ostensible life’s purpose in print. Chambit once told me, “I feel like I might be on the brink of something great, but also on the brink of something awful.” I suppose only time will tell.