March 6, 2002

a cringe without zest

To be a master overachiever at college requires I stifle the murmurs of my soul. Humor, wit and irony are my beer, whisky and wine, but there is no place for mind-altering beverages in class. Often I sit at my desk, trying to wring as much substance as possible out of my academic experience. I feel it is not enough to sit and absorb in class, but to actively engage in the subject. Lately I’ve been wringing but barely a drop has reached the bucket. My classes are boring, and though the professors are putting up a valiant effort, the lack of engagement from other students makes the entire experience as enjoyable as an extended sponge metaphor.

No matter how difficult a class has been, my efforts to attain an excellent grade have never been thwarted. I’ve always cared enough about the subject being presented, or the impact it could have on my future, to always do more than the necessary amount of work. But lately I have found my classes so boring that I no longer find school inspiring. This is a strange feeling for me, as I have always enjoyed school… or at least most facets of school. To suddenly be turned off by the whole thing came as a complete surprise.

I want to be challenged in class. I want to push my mind, but I cannot arbitrarily introduce difficulties to life. I could stick razors under my skin to make walking around challenging, but that wouldn’t accomplish my desires. An action needs meaning behind it, and hardship for hardship’s sake is hardly a convincing argument. I’m tired of working hard at school out of spite. I’ve got my cumulative 3.8, I got my semester 4.0, and I’ve proven to myself what my capabilities are. I am unimpressed by social status and as a result I do not feel driven to prove myself to others. Now that I no longer feel inclined to prove myself to the abstract idea ‘college’, I am without motivation. College feels like I’m constantly slamming my head against the desk. It’s cool to do for awhile, but eventually I forget why I started in the first place. Slamming my head into the desk started as only a means, not an end, and after spending three years of head slamming it is no longer fulfilling.

I want to create, but all I’m learning in college is how to think logically and rationalize. At first it was a fun challenge to see how small I could reduce myself, and see what could be done away with because it was nonsensical. As a watered down Descartes I systematically questioned, rejected and accepted thoughts, eventually reaching the state I’m in today. College has been a breeding ground for internal brooding, and now I’m tired of mulling over my same old ideas. I want new ideas, but instead I get the tired regurgitations of my last three years. I must actively seek new and inspiring ideas outside of school, and that is backwards. School should be inspiring. Activities and fun stuff should supplement the excitement of college learning, not fill a void that school leaves wide open.

Classes are 20th century twelve-tone compositions, and they all draw from the same matrix set. I feel I have seen every retrograde and inversion, and now I thirst for more content. I’ve questioned my perceptions, my convictions, my beliefs, and now I want to leave the questions behind and actually do something. No more of this metaphysical, build-the-individual-from-the-inside-out crap. I’ve been gnawing at the bone for a year, and once again I desire for meat. A 100% pure ground chuck of Twin Peaks, jam bands, camping, web design, photography, good books and good movies. I want to learn about lasers, old newspapers and the history of Prince Albert. Make me a Renaissance man.

I should not be so dismissive of my college experience, however. Being starved from inspiration was an integral part of my mental development. Lacking outside distractions to keep my mind entertained, I was able to go through the intense introspection that resulted in my newfound discontent. My constant drive for overachievement in college requires strict regulation of outside interests. I’m continually balancing fun against work, play against school, and without error I almost always side with school. Success in class will beget success in future, n’est pas?

For example, even writing this entry is a guilty pleasure. I know I should be studying for Media Law instead, or reading Neitzsche for Friday’s philosophy midterm, or maybe practicing sax for Head of the Lakes. What matters more at this point, I ponder. Writing babble in cement or ensuring another healthy GPA? Will a future employer be impressed by this paragraph; by my witty use of alliteration and hyperbole? Probably not impressed by this graph specifically, but Future Editor may enjoy my general command of the English language and ability to express myself in writing. Will this entry be integral in my development as a writer/critic/pundit/roadie/rockstar/woodsman? Probably, but in an intangible way. A rational person would focus his energy on activities that can be carefully categorized and rated, ensuring that his toils are well-documented and result in a just reward. Logic says I should not consider skipping class to write, and with that I must pause for a moment as my brain curdles in the classroom.

But the college-enhanced Sensory Deprivation Tank is a double-edged sword, no doubt. When nothing but your mind is there for you to philosophize about, all you can philosophize about is nothing but your mind. When I saw the world collapse into a stinking pile of dreck, I knew I had tossed out something dear to my soul. It’s impossible that the world would change so suddenly, so the collapse definitely signaled a change in my thought patterns. I stopped seeing irony and humor in all the facets of life, and I was concerned.

I find myself yearning to do meaningful work; chopping wood for instance. You start with a pile of logs, take up an ax, work up a sweat and by the end of the day you’ve got a stack of split firewood. The progress is clearly defined, where you can remember the pile from the morn and you can see the finished stack in the eve. It is an externalization of the soul and free will, and when it happens you and others can stop and admire it. Art externalizes. Music externalizes. Writing does as well (though in journalism your work must be transparent to the reader, which arguably does not do this).

In college the details are not as important as your growth as an individual. As you cram for tests you aren’t really expected to remember what you learn, but to remember how you learned it. College hones your ability to filter and extract information, which is important in this age of information saturation. With any luck you solder that last gap between information and knowledge, and become a bit wiser each day. Your mental development progresses in a series of peaks and plateaus, and when a plateau comes along the result can be devastating. You look back and see no accomplishments, no progress, no stacks of wood. All of your energy was focused within, and you have no record from whence you came.

Then you unintentionally become a wise ass like me, and you want to abandon the entire system. I can follow the restrictions of reason until I feel like my insides have been gutted. Every day becomes boring, logical, predictable. The alarm sounds at 6:50 and I cringe as the day’s dull responsibilities invade my private dreams. Crawling out of bed seems too great a task, yet I always manage to do it. My strive to be a better person starts right then; a weaker mind would stay in bed, I say, and I am unwilling to make that concession. Yet there will be nothing to distinguish this day from the others. I go to class, I take a nap, I go to jazz, I sit in front of my computer for four hours, I go to bed. No room for creative interpretation, as my tasks already have me too exhausted. Apparently the pining away of the individual is considered growth.

My college life lacks zest, a quality I can only explain with that feeling that rouses me from slumber on camping trips. It’s 6:00 in the morning, the air is frozen and my head is stuffed with cotton. Yet I get up anyway, and while stumbling dumbly around camp I feel more alive than ever. It doesn’t matter that I’m sleepy, that my back aches from hiking, that there’s sand in my shorts. Those mornings possess an inexplicable ether that holds my body up and keeps my head from rolling clean off my shoulders. A soft, transcending breath fills my limbs with life. On these mornings I am reborn, and eagerly anticipate the excitement my day will offer.

I will get hit by a tree, I will crush Peter under great stones, I will poop in the woods, I will laugh. Most importantly, I will make others laugh with me.

I will remember it vividly because I will be awake.