What I Learned from College

I didn’t grow up like most people in high school. Not to say I didn’t grow up, I just never had my rebellion. I never dared to come into myself. First and foremost college allowed me to explore that. I have some fantastic memories from college; I met the woman I want to and will spend the rest of my life with week one, I partied in questionably outfitted homes and across the Atlantic. But I will remember the people I met and spent time with and did a bunch of stupid s**t more than all the rest of it. This is a bit of what I learned.

1) You are allowed to watch movies alone.

I spent a lot of time doing this, and a lot of time doing this Freshman year when everyone left to go out. I will admit it wasn’t particularly exciting, but I will say this: I did what I needed to do.

2) You should go out with the group.

I always thought it was really stupid, and many of the stories I have heard confirm that in some way. But what I have learned is that hearing the stories isn’t the same as living them. Isn’t the same of living amongst your peers. And you don’t have to do it their way either. Go, dance, watch drunk people (even just that is often worth it) and just live it. Don’t be too afraid to live (and please take reasonable precautions so you don’t get arrested, poisoned or otherwise put in harm’s way).

3) Choose Your Friends

Some people are assholes. And some people you just don’t click with. And that’s okay. The best part about life is that you are important and wonderful and you can choose to surround yourself with people you actually want to be around. And who actually care about you.

4) Fights Are Actually Healthy and Normal

Not fistfights. Please don’t get in a fistfight if you can avoid it. I mean arguments. You are your own person. Which means you are different from everyone else, including your most best friend in the whole world. And, sorry to break the news, you’re going to disagree. And that’s okay. The important part is to understand this and work through it. Real friends won’t leave you behind.

5) Your Perspective Isn’t the End-All-Be-All

I’m not saying you aren’t right. But the fact is, life is a lot more complicated than “this is this and that is that.” Even a statue looks differently from behind and who are you to tell the guy across from you his view is wrong? I’ll never be able to explain to everyone what this means, but the point is that everyone’s experience is legitimate and real. And you should treat it as such.

6) Sometimes Really, Really Shitty Things Happen

I don’t know what to say about this one. It’s just true.

7) Mental Illness is an Illness

And most people get something at some point (most commonly anxiety of depression). And that’s okay. Don’t treat people suffering as if they’re some kind of foreign creature. It’s just an illness. (I’ll point out that no one says “those (kind of) people” about persons suffering from colds, the flu or even chicken pox).

8) Degrees Get You in the Door

And that’s about it. I’m an English major. No one ever asks me about it. They ask for stories about who I am and how I deal with life and what experience I have that might be useful. If you’re in school you should remember that when you stay up until 4 a.m. studying for an exam instead of applying to jobs or something (sleeping? not gonna judge though, sleep is fickle).

9) You’ll Know When You Actually Break

And it’s a hell of a lot farther along than you might think.

10) Be Yourself and Let Others Be Them

Respect other people. And have the confidence to listen to yourself. Because I can just about guarantee you’re more right than anyone else.

11) Don’t Go into Debt

School loans, houses and cars are a whole separate thing. Don’t get into debt for everyday things. And if you do, pay it off. I feel like everyone’s heard it a million times before, but it is really just true. Finances are the easiest way to make a relationship tense, to stress you out and make you feel totally trapped. Be realistic about your abilities and understand.

12) Live Simple

You can have cool stuff. But I lived in a closet for a year in France, shared a mini-fridge with two other roommates and had a window opening the size of my fist (not exaggerating). And one of those roommates told me that he had gotten all his stuff down to the size of a single carload and how freeing it was. I’m gonna need a kitchen table, so that’s not gonna work for me, but it’s still good advice. It’s easier to be happy when all you need is a cup of tea, a bath, flowers, a book, whatever.

Life is complicated. And it sucks a lot sometimes. Actually sometimes it’s really awful. But what I learned from college is that actually, I think I can do this. No guarantee it won’t be rough. But in the end. Yeah. I think it’ll work. If nothing else I could be an English teacher.

I don’t know why this song, it just seems to echo how I feel.


Not Again! Homoeroticism in Lit Class (And why the discussion is valuable)

So every time I have ever discussed a Shakespeare in a collegiate-level course, someone inevitably makes the argument that two of the (usually male) characters have some kind of homosexual or (more often) homoerotic relationship. Now I’m not going to dive into that mess of a discussion, which can involve tons of history, theory, critical discussion, etc., but I will say that up until now I’ve rather detested those discussions. Because it seems like they’re just a really easy way to make a wave.

And while that may still be true, I just realized something that has nothing to do with accuracy in regards to whether or not two of Shakespeare’s characters had homosexual tendencies or not. Because, on a practical level, that’s completely irrelevant. For one, there’s literally no way to know because a) Shakespeare is dead and b) the concept of homosexuality as we have it today did not exist (and he wouldn’t be able to speak on it).

However, all of those discussions we had DO pose a far, far, far, far, FAR more interesting question: how do we, in our modern society, interpret (same or mixed) gender interactions? I mean, if we can say “this activity by this character suggests that those two men have some sexual tension going on,” then something in our own modern society has to back that up. Because we don’t have a history book from 1500 that says “in our society friends behave in this manner and friends-with-benefits act in this way towards one another.” All we have is our own perception, based in our own society. And, like every generation before and to come, what we are doing in this discussion is self-reflecting, negotiating, seeking to understand ourselves and our society. And possibly seeking to re-negotiate what that really means.

And now I wonder what other discussions in English Lit I’ve checked out of off-hand.

This is going to be an English major rant

New Reading Standards Aim To Prep Kids For College — But At What Cost? : NPR.

So, especially if you’re American and care about the education system in America, you should read this.

I am an English major (and I’m in France. I know. It makes sense if you think about it). I love more than almost anything reading. I’ve read Chaucer in old English, Shakespeare, Joyce, Stevenson, Fitzgerald, Dumas, Bradbury, Austen, Woolf, Brian Jacques of the Redwall series and so many more. I don’t tend to like non-fiction. Not for fun anyway. Don’t get me wrong, a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. is incredible. The Declaration of Independence is fantastic. All these kinds of things are wonderful things to learn.

But why in English? Why not in History? The speeches by MLK Jr. are a perfect way to capture the hopes, feelings and power of the Civil Rights movement, so why not use it? Better yet, why not coordinate topics and read works like Invisible Man, The Bluest Eye, A Lesson Before Dying or any of the other many classics dealing with racial issues. Why not link Things Fall Apart with colonialism in World History?

But to say, “Okay, so these works of literature are about this topic and that’s what we’re going to teach you about” is ridiculous. A single novel, if well written, is about life. It can say anything and everything about a life experience. That is the beauty of studying English. You pick out a thread of truth and develop your arguments, then find that someone else has another thread of truth different from yours, and another person has found another thread of truth, until by the end of it you hold in your hands a web of lessons coming both from you and the text.

I appreciate what is being done and the effort being put into this project. Obviously something needs to be done. But there is a certain kind of critical thinking, of imagination, of experience that could be lost if we let it. And I know that experience has done more than instructed me, it has provided refuge. A safe harbor. That’s the real beauty of being an English major.