AMY MROTEK | OPINION COLUMNIST
I’ve been listening to an excessive amount of Pink Floyd lately. I’ve been walking around campus a little slower, my head and feet a little heavier. I’ve been sitting alone in Eds a lot, picking at veggie pizza with ear buds stuffed into place, pretending to read a book because even after all this time I still squirm at others’ judgments that it’s just me, myself and I. At least that sucker punches my freshman-year self, so afraid to eat alone in the caf I coordinated a daily lunch schedule amongst friends, waiting every day in that armchair sitting area for them to appear so even my entrance was guarded by company.
Hey, that’s progress of sorts, right? Maybe?
If you’re looking for anything meatier than that, you’ve been trigger warned. I don’t have much to serve up besides crossed fingers and a shoulder shrug, which are really just haphazard attempts at keeping the Mongol emotional hordes at bay. Apathy is an easier mask to wear than most of its sentimental cousins, and it comes with some club perks, too. The problem is it’s a false reality for me, and perhaps an ill-fitting way to “reflect.”
Yet fours years on rollback and a blank, leering page to stamp them on, and here I am, coming up blank. This has been my near-constant state for a few weeks now. Jaded by the sweet dread of senior year, my memories have strapped themselves to roller blades and are swooshing downhill at a rate that makes my heart ache. It’s the plague of time, the end of college careening faster and faster, more out of my control. And while the precipice of graduation is a welcome change of pace from the familiar, it’s so tinged in question marks it sounds like a bad game of Marco Polo.
I came to St. Norbert declared as an education major. Within three weeks I realized the caliber of organization, patience and authority it takes to run a (mostly) efficient classroom was beyond my scope. Not only that, because those traits can be harpooned over time, it was the conclusiveness of it, the dormant linearity. For as bland and me-minded as this is, over these four years I’ve found myself to be bored with anything that comes with step-by-step directions—almost chronically so. My head is a blondish balloon of raging misdirection, my attention span like a flowerpot waiting spring. Everything looks like a seed that with the right light, the right water, could sprout into imaginative bloom, and then all purpose, all meaning will Jack-and-the-beanstalk-style burst forth. Then I will feel content.
Yet all I’ve found is the more I puff up experiential expectations—for weekends, for friendships, for jobs, for myself—the more that mirage shrivels and shatters. The truth is disappointment is about as constant as a cold, and it comes in just as many varieties. Nothing stays the same, particularly people and particularly your sense of self. You can spend your four years pretending you’ve crossed your t’s and dotted your i’s and put all your golden eggs in the right basket only to find that as soon as your hands clutch that diploma, you’ve been blind to the demands that the collection of moments calls forth.
I vehemently reject this romanticizing of college as the best years of your life. I detest the fortune-cookie speeches so typical of graduation, the ones that tell us in a singsong rhythm that we’ll all go on to do great things, be great people and achieve the peaches-and-cream dreams we’ve fermented. I shirk the fetishizing of youth as the only time for discovery, the collective assumption that adulthood means mundane routine and once you hit your thirties you should have the puzzle pieced together. No, I don’t just reject it, I fear it. It kneads my stomach into knots and makes me wonder where along the way we stutter step into dullness’ oblivion and call it a life.
If this all reads like the most depressing, nihilistic rant you’ve ever read, I do apologize, because that means I’m more shipwrecked in these thoughts than ever. But even after coloring inside and outside pessimism’s lines for months, I’ll admit, I really do think I err on the side of the romantic. I believe in micro-progress, in reading good books, in drinking good coffee, in eye contact, in bare feet, in complimenting a smile, in crediting your gut and trying to make this whole dumpster dive as soft as possible for one another. I’m learning curiosity is the single strongest opiate against boredom and that being open-minded in dialogue but constant in skepticism is the strongest self-fulfilling soufflé. I stare at screens—computer screens, phone screens, the screens of other’s faces, the tuck of their eyebrows when they frown in class and the curl of their lip when they laugh—and feel a trickle of the light. I try not to feel so guilty for my inadequacies, try to restrain my jealousies. Above all, I openly, ardently wish for others to rain check their own judgments and biases, to crack their beliefs open like a rib cage to watch the yolk of themselves pool forth. That’s who we all need to be, for ourselves and for each other.
I’m not here to untie all the knots, I wouldn’t know what to do with the rope once straight and limp. I do, however, hold a sacred spot in my palms for those who, like me, have found college to be a process of radical unlearning rather than its advertised opposite. I leave it feeling both lighter and heavier, to clinch the confusion one word on a page at a time.