Monday, June 13, 2011

The Post-Collegiate and the Restless

For all of you who are older than 25 but not yet firmly entrenched in the minivan-driving, late-night-feeding, extracurricular-activity-juggling stages of your lives, those of you who left the hallowed walls of your undergraduate institution anywhere from, say, three to fifteen years ago…do you remember what it used to be like?

When I was in college, I certainly didn’t view it as the best time of my life. Actually, I viewed it as pretty much an extension of high school with a bigger cafeteria and more papers to write. I was still not part of the “in crowd” – only now, the “in crowd” was made up of the theater and music kids who looked warily at a writing major with the hairy eyeball similar to that of zebras sizing up an antelope trying to fit into the herd. Nobody cared that I loved directing or that I’d done it in high school to great fanfare in my tiny hometown. My hair was still frizzy. I still couldn’t find my budding pubescent ideal of a suitably artistic, poetry-reading, brooding boyfriend to save my soul. (There’s probably more than one reason for that, by the way, but I digress.) I still bought my jeans in the juniors’ section and my makeup from Wal-Mart. It was all just a bit of a letdown in the “I can’t wait to get out of this cow town because I’ll FIT IN when I go to college, dagnabbit!” department.

I wasn’t popular. I didn’t like swigging beer out of a red plastic cup amidst cigarette smoke and bad rap music in a frat house living room. I didn’t really fit in anywhere, much as I tried. (This is a pattern that I’ve found has stuck with me up until this very moment.)

In my now late-twenties wisdom, I’ve deduced that we usually can’t see the forest for the trees until we’re at least a few years out of the forest.

But despite all that, in college, my goodness, did we think. And why did we think? Well, largely, because we read.

There was a time when I could tell you everything you ever wanted to know about Regency-era and Victorian British literature and how those characters mirrored and related to life. I knew what I thought about stuff, like how you can’t teach someone to write, you can only teach someone to write like you, which I subconsciously channeled on a weekly basis to my writing professors as they ripped apart my short stories in workshop class. My friends and I took honors classes called “Thought,” “Thought and Civilization,” and “Thought and Social Sciences” (only at an expensive liberal arts school, I’ll tell you), where I was introduced to topics such as racism, gender equality, sexual stereotyping, and a host of other controversial subjects that had never even been brought up in my small-town high school. I had to defend – and thus further examine and delve deeper into – my faith. No longer was I a rebel because my family were Democrats; now, I was different because I was far more conservative than most of my classmates.

Because of these classes, my friends and I sat around and talked. We debated. We discussed. We read. We wrote. We thought. We engaged with each other intellectually and emotionally in a way I’ve not really experienced before or since. While the year I spent in England pursuing my Master’s degree in screenwriting was the most creatively challenging of my life, it still wasn’t the same as the years I spent thinking about the meaning of life with my fellow, largely clueless – because, let’s face it, we were 20 – undergraduate companions.

And now…what? Now, we’re all a little older, we’ve lived a little more. Our faith and wills and strength and work ethics and loyalties have been tested. Largely, we’re much more qualified to talk about the meaning of life after having, y’know, lived it a bit than we were when we sat in our dorm rooms digesting bad cafeteria food and sticking toothpicks into Peeps to recreate the Arthurian legend for fun on a Friday night.

But we don’t.

It’s been coming on me in ever-increasing stages. The ennui. The listlessness. The feeling that snickering little elves are sneaking into my grown-up apartment every night and sliding past my toy poodle at the foot of the bed to suck my brain out through tiny straws and replace it with a cardboard cutout of itself.

Now, the hot debate between me and my grown-up friends is which flavor of Sunchips is the best, or which grocery store is running the most deals this week. Did you know that high-energy washers and dryers can cut down 60% of your utility bills for a family of four? If you’re interested, a friend of mine can rattle off sales tax percentages in five different states. A couple years ago, for about a month until we got preoccupied with silly things like paying rent, my best friend from college and I became accountability partners to make sure we were both actively reading books and not just the nutritional information on food packaging. The last time I inquired if someone liked Jane Austen, the answer I got was, “Well, I liked the movies.”

Has it really come to this?

My turning point came this weekend when I (very temporarily) forgot that Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley had written Frankenstein and could not without the aid of Google remember who had written Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, both of which I wrote papers on in college. I felt humiliated in front of my also well-educated friend on the other end of the phone line. I am smart, I swear! If my favorite professor could see me now, I dread to think what his reaction would have been. I totally shamed him.

That was it. It was the end.

I might not be the most glamorous, or most effervescent, or (gasp) the wittiest girl all the time, and even though I long ago mastered how to properly curl my hair, one step in the rain or humidity will be my undoing…but I know my literature, thank you very much.

An hour after that ill-fated Google search, I was nose-to-binding in the library. An hour after that, I was lugging a stack of seven books through the front door of my grown-up-apartment (the most I could comfortably carry out by myself).

Since Saturday afternoon, I’ve devoured two of those books. So far.

And let me tell you, friends, this is just the beginning.