Forgive & Forget

November 4th, 2010 by admin 4

Prompt:  Something you have to forgive yourself for.

Ironically, my answer for this prompt and my friend Sonja’s answer are almost the same.  Like her, I regret my decisions and attitude during certain years of my college career, specifically my first and second year.

I came to college after having had a bad experience with high school.  Pre-high school, I actually enjoyed school and was quite an overachiever.  I loved learning and was a stereotypical nerd.  I had gone to private schools all my life, but when I hit high school, I went to the local public school.  It felt like taking a step backwards into the dark ages.  The work we were doing was work I had done three or even four years prior.  The students didn’t give a whit about their work.  The teachers acted as if my after-class questions were a burden rather than a joy.  The three years I spent in high school (I graduated a year early) very nearly crushed my love of learning. Unfortunately, this new anti-school attitude of mine overflowed into my first few years at a college where having a passion for your subject is absolutely, positively necessary for success.

Witness the scariness that was my desk during my second year.

When I got to Hampshire, I really didn’t want to be in school.  I had taken a year off and worked in retail, and had rented my own apartment in a city five hours away from my family.  I felt like an “adult” (oh how wrong I was) and going back to “school” felt like a massive step backwards.  The problem was that I kept associating college with “school”, when really, it was more like a meeting of minds. In my stubbornness, I somehow missed that, and I resisted my professors with all my might.  I didn’t like going to class, I did half-assed work, and generally cared more about everything else in my life than about my academic success.

This, predictably, bit me in the ass. I managed to almost flunk out of a college that doesn’t even have grades!  When classes got too “annoying”, I’d simply stop attending.  At the time I felt I was “showing the man how I felt”, but in reality, I was just being an uppity little shit, and not in a good way.  I barely passed my first year of college, and I struggled through the second.  I recovered somewhat during my third year by changing majors to something non-academic (switched from East Asian Studies to Documentary Filmmaking), but the core problem was still there: I didn’t really want to be in school.

So, I took myself out of college.  It was the best thing I could have done for my academic career, ironically.

I originally planned to take a year on medical leave, citing my bipolar disorder as the cause.  I was approved for the leave, and I planned on living in an apartment in the area, doing some internships to help bolster my academic record, which was pretty pathetic at the time.

I made it about a month before I desperately wanted to be back in “school”. I spent pretty much all my non-internship time (I worked two part time internships) visiting friends on campus, and I slept in my boyfriend’s dorm room at least three nights a week.  I talked to my parents and we decided that it was better for me to go back to college earlier than I had planned, and to take an extra semester by returning in the spring.  The next few months until I returned served to show me just how much I missed being in college, how much I needed the intellectual stimulation of being in classes, of having great discussions with my fellow students.  Being away from school made me realize how much I actually loved it. When I returned to college, I did some of the best work of my entire college career and gained the respect of some of the college’s best professors, and I attribute that to my newfound fervor to actually use the skills I had forgotten I had.

Those first two years have haunted me for a long time.  I feel like I pissed away my family’s money by having them pay to send me to a place I wasn’t really ready for yet.  I was older than most of my peers when I arrived at Hampshire, but my belief that I was thus also wiser was a false one.  My better-than-thou attitude and my poor academic behavior during those first years are things that haunted me for a long time, and while I regret them, I think it’s also time to recognize that there’s not really much that I could have done. I was too sure of myself to see that I was, in fact, not yet ready, and I would have blown off anyone who told me otherwise.  It was a realization that I had to come to on my own, and I think it’s time to forgive myself for not coming to it sooner.

From Another Planet

November 3rd, 2010 by admin 4

Prompt:  Something you love about yourself.

Today’s post is on a happier topic, though clearly, I’m still thinking too much about yesterday’s “hate” prompt, because today’s entry is about a personal trait that I have a love/hate relationship with.  I suppose this is what happens when you pose a challenge like this to someone who is very self-critical!

The trait I speak of is the fact that I seem to have an entirely different world view than almost everyone around me. I’m pretty sure it’s due to a combination of my alternative schooling, the hands-off approach to parenting I was raised with, being an only child, and my own weirdness, but whenever I talk about anything “deep” (life, love, society, etc), it’s as if I was raised on a different planet from the person I’m having the discussion with.  It’s not that I disagree with them, it’s that I have difficulty understanding how they came to their current viewpoint, or why they think that way.  It’s a bit as if I grew up in a bubble that I didn’t know existed.  I’ll give you a few examples:

I don’t understand…

...why people stay in jobs they hate any longer than is absolutely necessary. So many people stay in jobs they hate for years without even once trying to find something else.  Why would you do that to yourself?  There’s always something else out there.  It may take sacrifice, but there’s something out there for everyone.

…why people can’t see through the obvious conformity messages of society. Whenever I hear “I *have* to have that!” I think “Why?” in my head.  I don’t understand how most people can’t see through the blatant messages of society about how men and women should look and act, how lives should be run, and what you should strive for.  How is this not totally obvious everyone, and for those who DO notice, why do they frequently still comply?

…why people would spend years studying something they’re not passionate about. I feel incredibly lucky to have gone to a college where everyone studied what they were passionate about.  When I hear about people who study things like business, or law, or engineering not because they actually are interested in those subjects, but because they think it will make them money, it makes me very sad.  I don’t understand why you would do that to yourself.

...why people take issue with the choices of others (assuming it has no effect on them). Why should my neighbor’s choice of sexual lifestyle bother me any more than their choice of house paint color?  If anything, the paint should bother you more, since you have to see it every day!  Why do people make fun of the Amish, or people in tiny NYC apartments, or those who live in an RV?  They’re doing what makes them happy, and it doesn’t effect anyone else, so why degrade them?  I don’t get it.

…why people think one lifestyle is superior to another. Want to be a hermit in a yurt in Mongolia?  Great!  Want to be a famous socialite in LA? Great!  Want to live in a small house and work from home so you can be with your kids?  Great!  Want to work 60 hours a week in a law office and have a loft apartment in NYC?  Great!  As long as whatever you’re doing makes you happy, who the hell has the authority to tell you that what you’re doing is any better or worse than what anyone else is doing?  Nobody, that’s who.

…why people can’t take criticism. It’s someone else’s opinion.  Just like any other opinion, you can take it or leave it.  Why is criticism seen as such a bad thing?  If someone criticizes me, I think about what they had to say, think about whether they might have a point or not, and then choose to listen to or disregard the advice accordingly.  Why is that so hard for most people?

…why people connect education with ability, or experience with ability. It drives me insane when I see people make the assumption that just because someone hasn’t formally studied or worked in a given field, that they can’t possibly be good at it.  I know writers who have never been published in their lives who are better than many of the salaried reporters that I read in the Washington Post every day.  I know amateur architects who can innovate better than folks who have been in the field for 15 years and who went to architecture school.  I get told all the time by other professional photographers that my work is excellent and that I have the right skills and personality for correspondent work, and yet because I’ve never formally done work for anyone in the past, I’m unlikely to get such work in the future.

…why people don’t see that your life is what you make it. Really, it is.  You can do pretty much anything with your life if you’re willing to make the requisite sacrifices.  People love to say they can’t do things, when really, they can, but they’re not willing to work for it.  It drives me nuts when I see people sigh wistfully about lives they could have if they would just realize that only they control their lives.

…why people are unwilling to make small sacrifices even when the rewards are huge. This goes along with the last one.  People will avoid doing something difficult even if the payoff is huge.  Waking up 30 minutes earlier in the morning to exercise is a tiny sacrifice compared to the potential for weight loss and better health, and yet most people will still choose simply to sleep.  Moving abroad for work could have a life-changing effect on your career and family, but most people won’t do it because it’s “too complicated”.

…why people hate other people. Seriously, why?  I can understand disagreeing with someone, having a different viewpoint, or disliking the actions or someone, but why do people hate other people?  Can you imagine what the world would be like if instead of saying “I hate so-and-so!”, they worked to try and understand so-and-so, or possibly even tried to show so-and-so what is bothering them?  I sometimes feel like shouting “why can’t you all get along?!?” from the rooftops.

…why people can’t see what motivates their own actions and decisions. When you feel the need to buy a particular product, how can you not see that you’re buying it because of an ad, because of the aesthetically pleasing design, or its placement in the store?  When you’re thinking about having kids, how can you not see that the reason you feel the need for kids is because it’s what everyone else does, and because of artificial social constructs designed around the continuation of the species?

…what most people work towards in their lives. I honestly don’t understand the appeal of a house, children, grandchildren, then death. But, that’s me.  I want something different out of life, but I have no problem with people who do want the white picket fence vision.  What confounds me is how so many people want that vision without thinking about why, or whether it’s what they really want in the first place!  Most people give little to no thought about the most important question in life: “what do I want out of my life?”.  It’s the single most important question to ask yourself for your own happiness and fulfillment, and yet it’s something that most people never even think about.  It’s mind-boggling to me.

So, in the end, what I love about myself is that I do see/think about/understand these things. Sometimes it’s frustrating to feel like I’m operating in a parallel existence, but it also gives me hope, because I know that there must be other people out there who, like me, have a different world view, who see things through a different looking glass.  I love being the one to shake things up, the one who makes people think, the one who asks “why?”. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Unfinished Business

November 2nd, 2010 by admin Comments Off on Unfinished Business

Prompt: Something you hate about yourself.

There’s a problem that I’ve had throughout my life that has caused me more heartache, stress, and general mental anguish than anything else.  Ironically, this problem is not external, but internal:  I have trouble finishing things.

I’ve written before about projects of mine that never came to fruition; some never left the drawing board, while others made it to 85% done but never saw completion.  It’s a problem I’ve had since childhood, and it’s one that can become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy as well: if I am convinced that I’m not going to finish something, I’m even less likely to do so.  It also never happens the same way twice, which complicates my attempts to find a solution to the problem.

This tendency can cause creative paralysis like no other, which is ironic because it often comes out of creative excess.  Many times a project is dumped because some new idea of mine has taken its place in my mind’s spotlight, a project which will, in turn, likely be consigned to the dust bin when some even newer, shinier idea comes along.  I’ve always joked that the best way to get me to come up with a new project is to assign me an extant one to work on.  It’s not that I become bored with the old one, but that in working on the old project, I come up with new, often more refined, ideas that I want to explore. In college this caused me to have projects with scopes as wide as an Oklahoma prairie, but now, later in life, it causes me to have an infinite number of tiny, ever more fractioned, more specific projects.  I feel like I’ve gone from running Wikipedia to running 50 different single-serving sites.

I worry about this tendency and its potential effect on The Mongolian Experiment.  I’m attempting to thwart it by involving other people, by making myself much more invested in the project (both emotionally and financially), by holding myself accountable to groups larger than myself.  But, I still worry.  The more I work on TME, the more I think about other, similar projects that I want to do later.  The new ideas end up hurting the very core idea that they were born from!  I guess you could say that I have trouble saying “No” to an idea.

The reason this is something I hate about myself is that I feel that it is a story that has repeated itself over and over in my life: it causes me to feel like someone with a lot of potential but not a lot of success.  I constantly feel like I’m on the cusp of something big, but the break never comes and I end up endlessly ruminating about what I did wrong, or what I could have done better.  Ironically it is a constant state of near-success that makes me feel like a failure.  By all rights, I should be happy that I have so many good ideas, but really, I’d be happier if I only had a few and had the wherewithal to follow through with them.

[Photo by Steven Depolo]