Thoughts on floating with a college degree and broken ankle
There’s never been a moment in my life quite like this one. The slow tidal wave of realization — the “I think it hasn’t hit me yet” feeling — has hit me, a sensation I should know very well after a whirlwind four years of nearly nonstop wandering and world-shrinking and taking-it-all-in and rarely finding myself in a state of boredom.
Yes, I graduated from Kent State last Saturday in front of family and friends, gripped by official diploma notice and walked calmly down the catwalk. I posed for the pictures as the moms wept, the dads shook hands and the more distant relatives’ eyes glazed over with indifference*. It had all the markings and trappings of a Life Moment, and as such I’ve spent the aftermath crawled into the obligatory corner of reflection and self-evaluation.
I’ve realized the aforementioned wanderlust of exponentially accelerating achievements and what-have-you have given me a sense of reaching the top of some parabola: no weight, not floating, no gravity and no propeller either, like a sudden limbo I should’ve seen coming. The vast safety net of a state school higher education has evaporated and the propeller I was grasping for four years is out of gas. Let me give myself some credit here: A lot of my proudest happenings in college have been a direct result of my own pursuits, my own opportunity-seeking passion, my own nights and weekends spent with side projects, glowing computer screens and line-editing, sketching story maps for hours, strategizing seemingly impossible ideas. The coal mines didn’t explore themselves. The schizophrenic man swaying in the chaotic courtyard of a homeless shelter in South Florida didn’t present himself in my Newswriting class. But it’s evident that good journalism comes from within — it has to. Personal passion brings energy, summoning a focus not unlike that of an athlete. (Game time in Narva.)
But to a certain extent the safety net I’m referring to is stitched with more than academia; it’s not even so much a safety net, really, as it is an assurance that what I’m doing is right and valuable, as well as an insurance that I can spend some time awayfrom academia, even, that away from the lecture halls and editing rooms I can be social, party with my friends and not have to sacrifice money or time or deal with the zero-sum game of life. Etc etc. Before me is an open sky and endless horizon, lame-metaphorically speaking, but also that uncontrollable feeling of dread, that Life Crises happen just as often if not more than Life Moments, that we will make terrible decisions, that our selfish human tendencies will prevail and true, raw unhappiness will find us no matter what. It doesn’t really matter who you are or what you’re doing; all you want is to be happy. That’s where the feeling of dread creeps in, that by virtue of fate we’re born into a system that demands a path and a way to balance an income with, gasp, doing what you want, and knowing how far to take both ideals without becoming a slave to either.
As an aside that wouldn’t normally be an aside, I’ve lately encountered a stroke of bad luck that includes stolen electronics (laptop computer, digital audio recorder, cell phone) — as well as theft of intellectual property — from my car in broad daylight while grabbing frozen yogurt with a friend. It also includes, most recently, a broken ankle, casualty to the steep muddy decline of a heavily forested trail in Clear Creek Metro Park, victim to snagging a tree root maliciously waiting under the shadow of a mossy boulder; I was running, careening down the hill when my foot snapped audibly and I went tumbling.
So, drama aside, I sit at home as I have sat for a few lengthy days, foot propped, immobile, watching the afternoon fade into evening, consumed by frustrating idleness whose self-destructiveness reminds me of high school — all the while appreciating this irony, the dark humor of spending my first week finally emerged in the Real World completely dependent, being helped to the toilet, being checked on — which only further instigates my particularly stubborn independence that reduces me to doing such things as crawling painfully on the linoleum floor with a cup of coffee to the chair where I presently write.
It’s normally not an aside, but, although my friends may not see it in me all the time, I am of the belief that things happen for a reason. And that inherently bad things, things so unquestionably bad that they solicit the immediate pity of others, have a constructive role. That role might very well be to slow me down, as much as I despise the idea. I also believe that self-loathing is perhaps the most profound waste of time, which is easy to state, sure, but let’s think about it in a greater context. And I’ll end on this. The other day, while I was, hah, running, I realized an unconscious phenomenon in all of us. I was doing it the other day, running. Thinking about writing this. It’s something we all do but is especially detrimental to our self-health, our “selfhood.” We have a tendency to view everything we’ve ever done or said or acted upon as juvenile. We wear condescending glasses when analyzing our own past selves.
It’s most evident when remembering mistakes or flaws, yes, but even when I was reading pieces of writing I thought at the time were good, or old sloppy emails and iMessages and songs and fantastic ambitions I had journaled — I shook my head. It’s wasn’t shame, necessarily, or anything outwardly negative, but it also wasn’t a desire to go back and hang out with that kid, either. We put a discernible distance between our present and past selves. We all have a certain image of our past selves as clumsy, childish and, maybe, insufferable versions of us. At the very least, our past selves are not equals to our present selves and, God forbid, our future selves. It’s a more unnoticed pattern of the classic pursuit of perfection. It certainly leads to more unhappiness than a healthy dread ever will. It forgets that life is patently unpredictable and that our words, art, images and bodies are all products of a strange set of circumstances we’ll never be able to explain.
As a graduate sitting here exactly one week after walking the stage and shaking the hands, I see one more quality of the safety net, the disappearance of which has left me wondering what to do next. In addition to support and propel and assure and insure, and probably because of this, the safety net has a potential to jade oneself toward the parts of life that require no such safety net. Family is the first example that comes to mind. The more abstract randomness of life, its fate and fragility, is another. Our past self is one more. These are all things that are so sure that they need no double-take, that as college students we have taken for granted in the daily grind during which we know this artificial, temporary safety net has been there, waiting for us to fall.
I thought when I graduated, I’d feel both overwhelmed and underwhelmed without it. I was right, but now I know there’s nothing wrong with feeling either.
*This is a general observation; no offense to my identifiable distant relatives. Though indeed mom cried and dad shook my hand, my aunt and uncle and grandmother eyes were utterly focused on the action, I’m sure of it.