Friday, August 13, 2010


Forgive me for this, but my years at Guilford College evoke the overly cited words of Charles Dickens: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

I haven't had another period in my life that fits in the "best worst" category. I have had the worst. I know exactly when that was. I like to think the best is yet to come. I also like to think that my cell phone works because of magic.

But I think, very often, that the best is often peppered with the worst. (I mean, have you seen Troll 2?) The two contrast each other into significance. Things are only good, because things are also bad. And vice versa.
And if the seven years I spent in and out of college, living with friends from college in Greensboro, NC, were anything, they were significant. Not in THE grand scheme of things, but in my grand scheme of things.

Then I made a break from college. At the end of the Spring semester in 2008, I allowed myself to fail all my classes and walk away. I never checked to see if I did fail all my classes, but I assume I did. However, very often, teachers who had every reason to fail me, chose not to. But I think I had so little to give at that point that my charm wasn't getting me the sympathy "C's" it used to. This was a pretty rough time. There was a boy. There was the fairly insane overcommitment of my time and energy. There was a crystallization of cognitive dissonance that very nearly grew arms and legs and walked around the room.
That might be an unclear and obnoxious way to say that my give-a-damn busted. It could not be ignored. I remember sitting in my room that day, which also happened to be the boy's graduation day. I didn't go to the graduation but I lied and said I did. Another boy came over, a prospective friend and maybe more (as I was not in a real relationship with the boy), and we smoked weed and flirted. He played bestworst songs on the guitar like Alabama's "Dixieland Delight," and I think he was the first person I told about giving up on school. And he said, "Well, I guess this is your graduation day, too, isn't it?" And we smoked more weed. I very much wanted to embrace that perspective.
In reality, I was just a hot mess.

So now, over two years, another dog and another state later, I'm going back to school. It's only one class at first, a hard class but only one. And it's been so hard to just take this one class at community college that I basically had to will it to happen. I had to really want it. And in the process of really wanting it, doubt began to creep. Will I fuck this up? Can I ever be good at this?

One of the funny things about my shitshow of a time with formal education, is that I was almost always very disconnected with the guilt, shame, etc. that accrued with all the excuses, bad grades, decrease of potential candidates to author letters of recommendation, etc. It didn't feel good, but I cut myself a break every time. I frustrated the hell out of perfectly nice people. (Most of) my professors thought I was smart, funny and a great writer. They couldn't believe that I was actually this bad at school and really tried to push every possible limit in order to help me.
But success at pushing limits was the last thing I needed. I could give you a laundry list of all the shit I got away with. I mean, I did go to a Quaker private, liberal arts school. I had a teacher who thought deadlines were violent. I had a teacher who liked my short story so he gave me an A in the class despite the fact that I hadn't turned 3 of the 4 major papers in. Some deadlines have been extended into the following semester. And I still didn't finish. I just didn't take any of it seriously. And all the while, I had wonderful friendships and a ridiculously fun life. I wasn't just sitting alone in a room filled with dread. I was surrounded by the most wonderful, interesting, smart and accepting people and we had dance parties, talked all night, laughed all day, got high on the front porch, had radio shows, went to shows, ran around in the woods. Life was so easy. Nobody worked. And most of my friends did very well in school.
Did I mention that one of the classes I think I failed that last semester was, "The Science of Wine"? In this class, we made wine. We drank wine. It was a geology class.
I'm not saying classes at Guilford were easy. I'm saying classes at Guilford were ridiculous.

And that last semester wasn't in the glory days of college that I described. Those were freshman-junior years. Then I left for almost three years. I moved around a little but came right back. During the second go round at Guilford, 2007-2008, I worked and so did my friends. For some of that I lived with 9 of my friends in a giant house. Most of them were out of school at that point and we were all just so invested in this group of friends. We had lots of parties and lively conversations. The real world was at bay, but life was less easy.

So now all that guilt, etc. I distanced myself from is coming for me. I feel so mad at myself. I didn't realize how easy things were and how things would never be that easy again. Someone asked me what my goals were when I came to Guilford and then they pointed out that, though I gave a nuanced response, I never mentioned graduating. What's wrong with me? I'm 40k in debt with no diploma. For the first time, I'm really angry, instead of just really amazed, by my actions in school. I'm a good person. I try to do a good job. I'm fairly smart. But I just totally blew it.

I promised myself I wouldn't go back to school unless I had a career plan and that career had a direct educational path. Before, I had no idea where my education connected to the next step and, for me, it helped me see the whole system as arbitrary. And I finally found occupational therapy and a direct educational path to this attainable, practical job that I think I'll really enjoy. And I find myself balking at the gates. But I'm invested. I want this. And it's a totally different kind of school and I am a different person. And the "best worst" drama has lost a lot of appeal in the last couple years. I mean, I think good and bad is in everything. Life is messy. Feelings are complicated. But consistency of self and consistency in relationships is really nice.

So I'm hoping that the next few years are more like Garfield's "A Tale of Two Kitties," rather than Dicken's "A Tale of Two Cities." Wait, I don't mean that. I'm going to bed.

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