Monday, 27 April 2009

Thoughts on Four Years of University

To say that I’ve changed over the last four years is foolish. Of course I have. If you haven’t changed during your undergraduate career, I don’t know what you’ve been doing. That being said, I find it difficult to track precisely how I’ve changed. Some things are clear: I can wear sandals in public; I can wear pajamas in front of more than immediate family; I wear jeans and button-up shirts; I can see bottles of alcohol and not even want to smash them; I have become addicted to Facebook; I have developed a better repertoire of complex sentence structures. Other changes are less obvious but still noticeable upon inspection: I have grown spiritually; I have become more intelligent and analytical; I have learned to ride with awkwardness; I have become comfortable with ambiguities, even in my own desires and habits. But I have also changed in ways that are more ineffable. I have been told that I am more confident or more mature or more independent. These all circle around whatever it is, but aren’t fully true. Perhaps they mean, more confident about who I am. Perhaps. I don’t know.

What I do know is that, in my memory, the last four years have a different quality than any before that. To an extent, they seem to be more natural, less filled with posturing or trying to figure out where I belong. On the one hand, I more clearly did belong wherever I was in university, but on the other hand, I think I realize now that no one ‘belongs’ in any place more than another unless they’ve chosen to think so. I became a member of the university, of Navigators, of my friends. That is all belonging means.

I still have not grasped the fact that I’m graduating. While I look ahead to the coming year, I see that it will be very different, but somehow I haven’t really been hit with a sense of discontinuity. By this I mean that I don’t yet realize on an emotional or more ‘core’ level that my Queen’s undergrad is over and won’t pick up whenever I’m done in Fort McMurray. This means, I think, that a lot of the retrospection and regret-searching and so forth that many grads are luxuriating in/struggling with has not really hit me full force. As usual, I will likely drift with the semantic knowledge until I have become familiar with it, and then months down the road I’ll realize it emotionally. We will see.

But I will nonetheless attempt some sort of regrets and wishes and best memories thing here…

I regret very little. I regret a few things I said or did not say (almost entirely the former, notwithstanding all those e-mails and powerpoints that tell you the opposite). I think it’s foolish to wonder what would happen if you did the major things differently, though. What I do regret at the moment is not getting to know some people better. It seems weird, but in saying goodbye to particular folks—mainly from Navigators but sometimes from classes—I realized that many of the people who’d been around me for a year were people with whom I could be good friends. My general apathy towards changing the terms of an interrelationship, manifested in not socializing with class friends outside of class situations, now seems rather silly. I should have made more of an effort to get to know people from classes. I knew many folks, but I could have known many of those better. Then again, when you’re ashamed to invite people over to your house because it’s a sty, it gets awfully hard to figure out how to get to know them better.

There’s a regret: I wish I did more housework. Really, I do. If I felt better about our house, I might have invited people over more often and made deeper connections. Well, that’s a lesson I can pick up: keeping your house tidy = more friends.

I remember lying by the lake at night with Jamie, Roz, and Ted, watching shooting stars.

I remember playing Frisbee in the park with my housemates when we should have been studying for exams.

I remember leaving my last first-year exam with a bunch of my classmates. The sun was low and bright, so shadows were long and crisp.

I am pleased that I got published before I graduated. A small affair, but still published.
I am pleased I went to Running and Reading. The enthusiastic affection of small children floored me, and realizing that the moody and rebellious pre-teens actually like you, despite how hard they try to hate you, is satisfying in its own way. And the other coaches were pretty cool.

I am pleased that I was voluntold to be an unofficial leader for Navigators. I learned both how easily people can flick my bossy-switch on and how easily people (or maybe just Esther) can puncture any ego-inflation that might result. I also made friends and got invited to a bachelorette, of all things. And not as the entertainment—get your mind out of the gutter, people.

I also learned that I am not as naïve as I might have thought.

I remember a fierce blizzard with really high winds last winter, and how exhilarating such weather can be.

I learned that deciding just not to feel is far more painful than allowing yourself to be hurt. I also learned that being hurt sucks every single time and never gets easier.

I discovered that at least one person from the Internet is cool. Maybe you can meet people on-line and not be a nerd? Or maybe being a nerd is OK.

I learned that Christianity’s biggest cost (for me) is not impositions on behaviour or a sense of guilt, since I have suffered from neither, but that people will not take your opinion seriously. I often have been mistaken for an atheist, and I am often afraid to correct that error, both because it would make the other person feel awkward and because I fear they would pass me off as a foolish missionary type. While this fear is usually irrational, anti-Christian sentiment is prevalent enough in academe that I don’t think it’s utterly ridiculous.

I learned that you can come to appreciate or even think fondly of someone who drives you nuts simply by deciding that you will. That was a very recent lesson.

I learned that forgiveness is a constantly renewing process, not a one-off thing. If I’ve forgiven you for a slight, I must continue to forgive you ever single time I remember it. It’s a process, not a single act.

I remember weeks during which I pushed through essays repeatedly, with little to no rest in between. I remember these times fondly, somehow. It was cathartic. I also used dinosaur analogies in my Facebook statuses to help me. Someone who I hadn’t seen since high school commented later that laughing at those statuses were what got her through the same period.

I learned that hating pro-lifers is considered socially acceptable, but hating pro-choicers is not. That is to say, I learned that “tolerance” is usually a one-way street.

I realize that the goals and fantasies I had about university when I was a frosh either never came true or weren’t what I wanted or expected when they did. I found my happiness elsewhere.

I learned that common courtesy is not common. I don’t mean that there isn’t enough of it; I mean that it’s not common to everyone. Not everyone shares the same conception of what is polite. You must simply be as considerate as you know how and try to gently correct others when they do something that is inconsiderate (and forget about etiquette altogether).

I learned that most adults simply learn how to rationalize their childishness. I also learned that there is still such a thing as being ‘adult,’ and that it’s a valuable goal. Adulthood and child-like innocence are not mutually exclusive. Adulthood and childishness are.

I realize that I am very, very lucky indeed. Perhaps, one day, my luck will run against me.

I realize that friends are easier to make than you think, but that many excuses get in the way. Maybe you’re too busy or they’re too annoying or they won’t be bothered to get to know you or they already think you’re an idiot or you don’t want to lead them on or you might be awkward. Not one of these is likely. Even if it turns out to be true, not one is a valid reason not to try. Most people will stop thinking you’re an idiot if you try to make friends with them. Most people don’t talk to you because you don’t talk to them. And if you do get a snooty response, move on. Or, insist on being friends with them anyway. You might make them a better person.

This is list is far from exhaustive, though it might by now be exhausting. I wish I had a good wrap-up, but I don’t. I want to talk about surviving when you don’t achieve your dreams, being happy with whatever you have, and realizing that there is far more to this world than yourself and that acting on this will yield far more satisfaction than self-interest ever can. However, these are Pollyanna endings, and endings in general do not work here. I said I don’t feel a sense of discontinuity. Endings make no sense here. This isn’t one door closing and another opening. This is just another part of the same hallway. So no endings, only more…

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