I've spent most of my adult life going to college in one form or another. I spent nine years as an undergrad, two years getting my masters, then another five years teaching.
About two years ago, I stopped teaching because it was taking up too much time and headspace. I decided that the grown-up thing to do would be to leave my day job and focus on my writing.
And so I did. What I didn't realize was how much college was part of my life. I've really missed it over these last few years. I miss taking classes, and teaching them. I miss walking around campus and meeting new people. I miss getting into arguments about philosophy at the campus coffeeshop.
And I miss writing my silly little advice column for the campus paper. I wrote it for almost ten years and gave it up for the same reasons I stopped teaching. It was taking too much time away from working on the book.
Don't get me wrong. There are some parts of college I don't miss. Writing the papers, for example. Or grading them, for that matter. I don't miss having to get up for classes, either. Believe it or not, back when I was a student, I sometimes had to be awake by 11 in the morning.
Yeah. I know. There should be a law...
One of the many strange things about being in school for so long is how it changed my perception of time. There is an ebb and flow to the semester. Everyone is tense around mid-terms, irritable two weeks before finals, and giddy by the time finals actually start.
But the beginning of the semester is a magical time. The beginning of the whole school year doubly so.
This time of year has always been spring for me. Yes, yes. I know it's really autumn. But my personal clock, influenced by over 27 years of schooling tells me that this is when the new year begins. It's time to to back to school.
For obvious reasons, I've been thinking about this for the last week. I live in a college town, and when school starts up it's almost like Stevens Point is waking up after a long sleepy winter. Students are wandering the streets again, looking for house parties and curbside couches. The bars downtown are full. People are moving furniture around, hanging out in the coffee houses, and jogging on the sidewalks. I don't need a calendar to tell me that classes are starting again.
This is also the time when I would write my first column for the new school year. It was tricky because I didn't have any letters to answer at the beginning of the year, so most of what I did was introduce the concept of the column to the new students and make a call for letters that I could mock. (Or give advice to, depending on my mood.)
So in honor of my personal springtime, here's one of my favorite introductions that I wrote for the College Survival Guide a couple years ago:
* * *
I love this time of year. After three months of vacation everyone is fresh and rested. All the Professors have forgotten how much they hate teaching. They smile and chat with each other in the hallways. They cluster around Xerox machines like lame, tweedy gangs, pretending they're cool despite the fact that they're doing the equivalent of selling encyclopedias door-to-door while all the other gangs are pushing lapdances, PS3s, and cherry-flavored crack.
Returning students are glad to be back too. Mostly because your summer jobs were tedious and degrading. Three months of summer vacation is long enough so that you've forgotten that most classes are tedious and degrading too.
This means that you're full of hope. You're sure your new roommate won't be like the last one who wore tinfoil socks and had a tendency to occasionally urinate in the refrigerator. You're sure you'll pass Math 106 this time around. You're determined to actually join some clubs this year and not just sit around in your dorm eating spray cheese from a can and watching youtube videos about cats.
Sure you will. And while you're at it you'll have plenty of time to map out your future career, find true love, attain nirvana, and develop a high-tech cybernetic arm that dispenses an infinite supply of orange PEZ . Sure. You'll have time for all that. After all, you've done the college thing before. You've got it all figured out... Right?
But you freshman are my favorites. I remember what that first semester was like: you've got a new haircut and some of mom's money in your pocket. You're on your own for the first time ever. You have so much freedom that you can hardly keep from shitting yourself with sheer delight.
And you express your near-infinite excitement the same way every freshman has done for the last ten thousand years. You buy posters for your dorm. You order pizza at unseasonable hours of the day and night. You touch yourself *down there
* in a decidedly impure manner, repeatedly.
Well kids, cherish that delightful innocence for as long as you can. Because soon the horrible truth with start to dawn. You'll realize freedom isn't all nachos, whippets, and wicked touching of the bathing suit area. Freedom is also credit-card debt, STD's that would blister the paint off a car door, and scholastic performance so shoddy that your professors have to invent new grades to accurately represent how profoundly you are sucking in their classes. Something like "Triple F-minus" or "negative B plus."
Some of you, the smarter ones, are already starting to realize how dangerous all this lovely freedom is. Truth be told, your freshman orientation package should include a coil of industrial-strength nylon cord with a label that says: "Welcome to college. Here's a whole lot of rope. Feel free to hang yourself with it." Unfortunately, the effect would be ruined by UWSP's legal department, which would make sure the rope was actually too short for anyone to really
hang themselves with. And they would attach a second label, larger than the first, with bright red letters saying: "We mean metaphorically. Dumbass."
Truth is, I can't keep you from metaphorically hanging yourself. And honestly, I wouldn't want to. College provides you an unrivaled opportunity for you to fuck up in a largely consequence-free environment. This is half the fun of college. If you don’t make at least one or two really nexa-level mistakes while you're here, you're really not getting your money's worth.
What I can do is this. When things get weird, or stupid, or broken, I can offer some advice on how to minimize the damage to your tattered life. If that doesn't work, then at least the rest of us will have a good laugh at your expense.
So e-mail your questions, sob stories, and mewling pleas for help to [e-mail no longer valid]. I'll do my best to answer them. Exceptionally good letters will be rewarded with fantastic prizes. I promise.
* * *
Oh my beloved survival guide. How I miss you.
While I'm busy working on book two and getting ready to be a dad, I'll probably post up an old column or two on the blog here. There's a few pieces of good advice buried in all the humorous bullshit.
Also, because I'm feeling nostalgic, those of you looking for advice can mail in questions using the contact form here on the webpage.
That said, be aware that I'm busy, and just because you ask a question doesn't mean that I'll answer it here on the blog.
But maybe... just maybe...
Labels: College Survival Guide, my student days