[I wrote this as night so please excuse any and all typos]
[also, Italian students, if you are still fb friends and are trying to read this, I’m sorry for difficult english constructions, and also, I miss you. ]
Today I was a substitute teaching for an art class at the Academy. There is a lot I could write about regarding that hour long period of hovering obnoxiously over high school students, but, I really got to thinking a lot more about the question I had to answer before any of the teaching even started; a question I’ve been asked so many times since getting back from Italy and revisiting old friends.
“So tell me, what have you been up to?”
Maybe I should add the context to this particular situation.
“So tell me, what have you been up to (since I last saw you at your high school graduation ceremony in 2009)?
When you’re asked a question like that, there really isn’t a whole lot of time for pause or reflection. Which us rather unfortunate. In that moment, it incited in me a similar feeling that I encountered only a year before I graduated in 2009,
“What colleges are you applying to?”
Or even better,
“What did you get on your SAT?”
Instinctually, I wanted to say something impressive, something of note that would befit an Academy graduate. I mean, how many times had the Academy preached to me how special I was, how unique, how talented? I was, after all, an investment in the future. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hating on supportive statements that instill hope and self-confidence; I’m just saying those adjectives paint a picture of the future that does a great job selling a private school but has the same level of abstraction as world peace: It’s easy to say, but more challenging to describe and/or achieve.
So I started with the basics.
“I’m here in Albuquerque. I’m going to school part-time and working part time. In April I’ll be flying out to California to meet up with my boyfriend and road trip back to Colorado for the summer.
What else could I have said?
“Well, I brushed my teeth almost every day, I moved around a lot, I talked and sometimes, I was asleep.”
I followed my gut and did not use that as my response.
Anyway, the question got me thinking (once again) about what it’s like to be 23 and graduated and trying to “figure everything out.” The first thing you realize is that there are absolutely no rules or guidelines about the years that follow. To use a cheesy bowling metaphor, life after college I like playing the game for the first time without bumpers. The fear you will roll a gutterball is imminent, the floor is so shiny, and to succeed all of a sudden seems kinda hard.
Ok I am taking this too far. Bowling is an awful way to talk about life after college.
Still, I was always used to strategizing. With bumpers, you can calculate angles of impact, or at least, are guaranteed that you WILL HIT SOMETHING. In college/high school/being a child, I was constantly learning and refining my skills at operating within limits. Rules, structure, schedules, advisor meetings, credit hours, semesters…these were my limiting factors. Time Management Skills, they call it. By the time I graduated from Smith, I felt proud of my mastery of this way of life. Unfortunately, life after college is very unlike college.
I’ll switch to art, something I know a great deal more about than bowling.
In art, the idea is the same: without limits, it’s easy to feel lost.
For example, if you give me 10 nails, a block of wood, sandpaper, and some black paint, I can go to town making and inventing different variations of beautiful objects made solely out of those materials. Flexibility always seems to thrive and grow within limited conditions. As does creativity. Now, however, if you were to tell me to make whatever I wanted, however I wanted, and with whatever I wanted, everything comes to a dead stop. To make progress given infinite possibility can often be like trying to drag massive blocks of cement across a carpet—there’s a lot of friction. When I was taking my senior seminar in conceptual artwork, I came to understand this concept very well. I was given a small white cubicle studio with no natural light, monthly deadlines for critiques, and basically no rules. The only directive was our theme, “failure”, which seemed highly ironic at the time, given that after the first month, no one had produced much work, we were all frustrated and definitely feeling the pressure to perform. A wiser artist might have recognized the dangers inherent in a structureless class but I was the student, not the teacher.
The second semester I had learned my lesson. I made up my own limits (which at the time felt somewhat random and definitely unfounded in adult official stamp of approval). The second semester, as you might imagine, was much more stimulating and exciting. I did some of my best thinking and creating then.
So I suppose what I’d like to conclude with, as a sort of idea, is that I’ve realized that life after college is only so shocking because it is like nothing I have ever worked at before. It freaked me out because it doesn’t come with an expected graduation date, or an expected achievement level, or rules about a family, or what kind of car you should buy, or when you should actually do your taxes, or how much is reasonable to expect for your salary.
That’s what Google, Wikipedia, about.com, and the REST OF THE INTERNET is for.
All my love,