Today, for the first time in a long time, I thought about my freshman year of college.
I blame the blog CKTK for this, being that over there they are talking a great deal about Great Music and often in their posts the name ‘Sufjan Stevens’ comes up. I have heard of Stevens, but never listened, and I finally decided to give him a go.
It was the sort of sound that takes you back to a very specific time, with its own colors and scents, and all of a sudden you can feel the position your body was in, and everything around you just vanishes in a haze of nostalgia. As soon as the first refrain of Sufjan Stevens’ Chicago came over my headphones, I was back in my dorm room at Syracuse University, hiding behind my desk with my knees bundled under me and my bed behind me, trolling through webcomics on my computer while my roommate prepared to go Out Somewhere.
At that time of my life, I was listening to a lot of indie music. It was mostly a means to distract myself, to have something to focus on, and now whenever I hear that familiar sort of cadence, I think of those moments in that little room in New York.
I’ve never talked much about my freshman year of college.
It wasn’t a great time.
I think everyone has a junction in their life, some moment when they need to confront what they want to be with what they are. When I graduated high school, I wanted to be someone who could adapt. I wanted to be somebody adventurous, with Style! and Grace! and Wisdom! and the magnetic ability to flourish without a single friend in the room. In an effort to train myself into this, I threw myself toward the other side of the country and landed in exactly the sort of situation I had hoped for. I was in art school. I had new paintbrushes and everywhere there were people making bad decisions and losing themselves in the thrill of growing up. I really wanted to be able to participate in that dizzy sort of self-discovery, but the fact was, I just wasn’t very good at it. That wasn’t to say I didn’t discover anything.
I discovered that I’m shyer than I thought I was. I made very few friends, only one of which I still speak to (hi, Michael, hi!) and spent most of my time alone. I discovered that I’m not a very good artist, and that sometimes trying hard just isn’t enough. I discovered the difference between the ‘thrill of growing up’ and the genuine pang of being lonely and pissed off for no good reason at all. Most of all, I discovered the ability to change my situation.
Around March, I made the decision to transfer schools.
It was one of the toughest decisions I ever made. I was going back to Linfield, a school that I had fought going to for years. It felt like failing, to change the path I was on. It felt a lot like quitting, but it had to be done. In Syracuse I was spinning my wheels and sinking deeper into the mud, and staying would mean drowning. Still, there was the constant feeling that if I just tried harder, if I just acted a little differently, if I was a bit bigger, a bit better, a bit taller, things would be okay.
Things wouldn’t have been okay, and it took me a year to convince myself of that and get out.
I could write volumes about Linfield, and really, I already have. If you want to see how the whole Linfield experiment went, I would direct you to this post, or this post, or even this one. For the first time in a long time, I was able to be me without having to remind myself that it was acceptable. I was one of the leaders of a sorority. I had a ‘wolf pack’ that I was rather codependent with (and still am) and a safety net that I fell into more than once.
In that Sufjan Stevens song, he says, “I made a lot of mistakes,” and I have. I promised Taylor, again and again, that I would stay with him in Syracuse, and I left. I decided I had to be somebody different to be happy, which is a mistake I make about every other Tuesday. I convinced myself that the world isn’t any tougher than it needs to be.
I felt like I had to endure some sort of trial by fire to be interesting, or whole. Ultimately, I just got burned.
I’m not sure what that period in my life means. I mentioned the things that I learned, but were they worth knowing? Are the memories I have worth having? Would I be the same person without them? Would the years I spent at college be as meaningful without the shit that preceded it?
I’ve made a lot of mistakes.
I’m still not sure whether these mistakes spell ‘failure’ or not, and I’m not sure how this conversation ends.
Questions to ask in quiet moments, I guess.