I graduate next spring, apparently. I don’t know where I’ll end up, but I know some things that I will require.
I need to be around people. I love people… they’re fascinating, they’re funny, they tell great stories. Without others what is the point of writing or saying anything? What is the point of listening?
I have a mild case of insanity that results in stories about murderous ice cream machines and well-endowed neon cowboys. I don’t come up with any of this stuff myself; it always needs a seed from the outside world, often from a conversation that spirals into weirdness. I’m not crazy. It’s the world that is fucking insane, and I just pick up on that. I love it. I latch on to the irony that is the human experience and roll down the hill with it clutched to my breast, laughing.
Wherever I end up, I’ll need some crazy people to feed off of. This cools my heels in looking for employment at a newspaper or something, because journalists too often have this crippling sense of Duty that prevents them from having fun in their profession. “My work is too important to enjoy it.”
The Statesman suffers violently from this affliction. Whenever a reader calls the Statesman on its intense level of suckage, the paper caws and bristles like an ugly ferret. This response is wrong, the correct response being to admit that the paper really sucks and take a playful approach to it. The writers and editors at the Statesman need to quit rattling their noble chains and braying about their Duties to Society. The contempt that Statesman employees hold for their jobs wafts into the halls every Thursday like the wind off a sewage pond.
Some journalists get it, but they are so on top of the game I feel I won’t be rubbing elbows with them any time soon. Outside magazine kicks ass and has this rock and roll voice that can only come from journalists that are as amused as I am with life. The way they describe things, the details they include, the ironies, the passion, the crazy swirling colors of living are made real and tactile in their words. I can try to filter down a particular scene right here, where a whole bunch of snowboarders were drinking beer (and vodka and Red Bull) at the World Quarterpipe Competition, calling the professional boarders pussies as they pulled gay tricks. To make the competition less gay they built a fire under the jump, but the pros kept swinging around it so the boarders spit beer at them as they swept by. Things didn’t get cool until they threw Ross Powers’ custom board on the fire. Powers ducked in to grab it right as Colin Langlois blasted over the top, nearly slicing off Powers’ head.
But my Reader’s Digest version doesn’t do the story justice, because the way Eric Hagerman wrote it was so well-orchestrated that the omission of any words minimizes the effect. These guys write because they enjoy it, because they can’t help not to write, not because they think they’re doing a great social good and we should be grateful. While a crushing sense of duty can make you feel heavy and foul and sluggish, a love for your work can make you light and beautiful and nimble. The same amount of work gets down, perhaps more so, only this way it’s way actually enjoyable.
This is why I push myself so hard at my academics. Grades and achievement are my ticket out of here, and if I’ve got those in order I can’t be pushed around by potential employers. I want to flick a company the finger if they suck, and be able to find another one that doesn’t suck. I don’t want to be at their mercy. I don’t want favors. I don’t want to be a beggar. I don’t want to enter an abusive relationship where I need to settle for writing grant proposals in Podunk, Wisconsin, just because no one of decent character wants me. My discipline is my power.
In the end, I’ll be more productive if I enjoy my career. I believe in Heidegger’s externalization of the human spirit through meaningful work. What I do is who I am. For me, it is not enough to reserve laughter (or snowboarding, or music, or road trips, or whatever else I believe in) for the weekends. I need my work and production to involve my passion, not just my leisure and consumption.
This is what makes college so frustrating for me. There is no causal connection between how hard I work at school and how much time I get to spend with my passions. In actuality it is a backwards relationship, where the amount of work I do is inversely proportional to how much fun I have. Every time I choose to do something fun, whether it be exploring ore docks, watching The Little Mermaid or heading over to Superior at 1:00 on a Tuesday morning, it is always at the expense of work I should do for school.
Should. We now enter the duty conundrum. Without a sense of duty or responsibility our language would have no use for such a word. Now, duty can be a very good thing and a definite motivator. It would be wrong of me to assume that what I want to do will always be the best for me (or others). If this were the case we’d all be a bunch of fornicating beasts, tricked out on candy and acid, rolling around in the dirt. Sometimes mother does indeed know best in the end, even if you don’t agree with her during the process.
I feel a responsibility towards my studies, my family, my friends, my passions, etc., but often with school these duties come into conflict with one another. My education is very important to me, as I described above. I work myself over now with the expectation that it will pay off in the future. What’s four years of moderate hair-pulling, when compared to forty years of doing meaningful work that actualizes my spirit and allows me to embrace all of my passions?
But then comes the unsettling squawk from the other side. A few of my post-graduate friends have been telling me about how horrible the Real World is, and I don’t think they’re talking about the MTV show with cameras and drama and low-riding pants. Will my friends’ pitiful situation become mine next year? Perhaps. There is no rational reason to assume that their experience will be my own, but there is also no reason to assume that my experience will differ so wildly from the common. I see graduates all over the place that are miserable, unproductive little scamps, and I actually haven’t heard any stories about anyone graduating from college and doing anything enjoyable or meaningful.
So does this mean I should binge while there’s still time? Should I sacrifice all my work so I can enjoy what is apparently the last year of my life? Well, going to that extreme would be just as nauseating as studying every waking hour, but it raises the question of how much fun I can actually get away with without compromising my academic excellence.
I have a curious approach to school that has maintained a 4.0 for the last two semesters and the Dean’s List for the last six. I bust my ass all year while most kids are living it up, and I cut loose during finals week when everyone else is grinding away in textbooks. Last winter I went snowboarding almost every day during finals week, sometimes between two finals on the same day. It was bliss. It also presents an unsettling ratio, as most students get, what?, 16 weeks of collegiate excess to my one. During that week it all seems worth it, believe me, but in the weeks leading up it is most frustrating.
And once again we are presented with the backwards reward structure of college. By busting my ass in school I am conducting myself under a reward structure that’s on a completely different time-scale than that of the non-academic lushes. I’m projecting my enjoyment years into the future, which begs the question of whether or not my efforts are worth it. The lush has made an enticing point with his Carpe Diem attitude now, which likely includes a ‘settling down’ in the future. I don’t want to settle down, though. I never want to settle down. There’s too much to see, to do, to enjoy in the world, that cannot be crammed into four tiny years as a university. Just as I work hard to get my lazy days of finals week, I grind through my academics now to insure the blissful years of meaningful work in my future.
Mind you that I don’t think my experience is anything original; that I suffer more than any other student on the block. Also mind you that I can only speak personally of my experience, as clairvoyance still isn’t taught in college, even as an elective. This is the truth for me, and if that’s all it can build up to, well, fine. So be it.