It’s September (at least for another few hours), and if you’re young or have kids that are, that means back to school. I don’t have to worry about that anymore myself, and yet I still find a way to. Though who among us doesn’t still have those occasional nightmares… the classic “showing up to school naked” or perhaps my personal fave “it’s finals day for a class you forgot to attend all semester.” We all still have those, right? No? Just me? Awesome.
A while back, I started gathering a mishmash of random memories from my school days that I wanted to put out there. Maybe not super relatable, but I don’t keep a diary, so it all goes here. Hope you enjoy. This will all be all your midterm.
Aesthetics Versus Athletics
School always felt somehow like enemy territory. I’m sure that’s mostly the anxiety I had about meeting obligations, but there was also something foreign about it. Large facilities that I only ever saw part of. Classrooms I never personally had classes in. Buildings I didn’t know the purpose of.
And then there was sports. Not that I wasn’t active as a kid. I remember that time of the early evening when the streetlights are about to come on. Playing outside, running in the cold till your gums hurt, itchy from rolling around in the grass. But I also remember passing by campus after school, looking at a jungle of fences and poles, a grass field and a labyrinth of athletics buildings and hallways and locker rooms I knew I’d never see. Shared equipment and rules and practices and competitions I didn’t understand. A club, a camaraderie I just didn’t “get.” Especially mystifying when it was for older kids. In elementary, it was the middles school. In middle school, it was the high school. In high school even, it was college. There was something exclusive about athletics. Jonah was always clued in, but not me. It wasn’t me, it wasn’t my family. And yet school spirit and uniforms and events and rallies all centered around this stuff. These were the heroes, the inner circle of the school. This is what mattered to some people, and to me it was so foreign that I just stayed away. Intimidated by that jungle, I guess. An outsider. That probably makes me sound bitter about wanting to fit in, but I don’t think I experienced it that way. At least not consciously. I got along with everyone, had friends, and generally had a reasonably trauma-free experience. I’m not going to pretend I was somehow above the desire for popularity, but I don’t think I specifically craved the approval or acceptance of people whose interests were so different from mine. (Like who cares if someone who likes shitty music thinks your music is shitty, right? Same idea.)
Anyway, I did eventually have my version of that camaraderie with martial arts in high school and later with bands, and I really appreciated it then.
Hitting The Books
In elementary school, the only books I cared about were at the Scholastic Book Fair. Reviewing each year’s catalog and negotiating a budget with mom was serious business. (That and the little “Santa’s Workshop” event where a bunch of cheap tchotchke booths were set up in the school library where you could Christmas shop for your loved ones. I vaguely remember wire-and-stone beetle jewelry and some kind of metallic angel. My first semi-independent exposure to consumerism.)
In high school, it was getting your issued textbooks each year and wondering what each one might portend for that class’ workload. The cold feel of weighted clay-coated pages. Worn covers with corny 70s city scapes on them, seeming mysterious because they predated my birth. The mandatory hassle of covering each one with a cut up grocery bag. And perhaps unofficially writing a few book reports based on Cliff’s Notes.
Then in college, the books were better — hell, I even kept a few of them. And you didn’t have to cover them. But you had to buy and sell them yourself, which sucks in its own way. I wonder if that’s any easier in today’s world with Amazon and e-books and Wikipedia and piracy?
Your Problems Aren’t Problems
Those JC days are fond memories. Living at home, balancing work and school, and still plenty of time for an active social life. Had some income but still a full course load. An easy commute with easy classes. Listened to a lot of music on the road (my own CDs as well as Alice and Live 105, though remember these were the dark days of post-grunge). Even a modicum of friendship with other commuter classmates. It was like having a second job that was less stressful. I suppose that might have been in part because this is when you start getting treated like an adult. Show up if and when you want. No one on your back. Sink or swim on your own schedule risking only your own neck. It’s how I work best.
And then the later days at Cal were great, too. I had no income since I couldn’t balance it with a real job. That sounds to me now like something that would have terrified me, so maybe I’m remembering it through rose-colored lenses, but I really think that other than the given stress of classes, I felt pretty free. Spending all day on campus, hanging out in libraries, watching movies in the film department to kill time, lunch on the quad and around town. The end was in sight, and I’d put all the pieces in place. There was nothing left to do but stay the course and wait for it to all come together at graduation. Which it mostly did, and I moved on to adult life.
As nice as I seem to remember it being, I can’t even imagine having to go through school in today’s world. More expensive and less valuable. More complex and stressful. I don’t miss that shit. You’d have to literally double my salary for me to even consider going back. I obviously don’t recall it being all that awful at the time, but trying to make room for it here and now, contending with real adult responsibilities? No thanks. Those carefree days are gone. Unless I win the lottery, I don’t see myself loafing around on a campus again. I’m much happier with a steady income and a nightlife. At least I think I am.
“Every beginning is a consequence — every beginning ends some thing.”— Paul Valéry