What lies below is the second funniest joke in the world:
Once upon a time, you will have the four best years of your life with your best friends in this place called “college.” Four years later, it will end.
(Moment for you to recover from an unexpected bout of intense laughter…)
No but seriously. How are we to compartmentalize the college Experience in our brain places? For me, this conversation has an Emotional and an Intellectual constituent. The Emotion piece posits college as the link between otherwise very different people with very different backgrounds and experiences. Meanwhile, the Intellectual piece refers to how college forms us as academics, thinkers, and doers. (A recent New Yorker article by Louis Menand called Live and Learn: Why we have college asks readers what they would write on evaluations of their college experiences, as if answering a question like “Were course objective clearly explained?” on a typical end-of-semester course evaluation. Most colleges claim to teach students how to “think critically, reason analytically, solve problems, and communicate clearly,” but I’m afraid this doesn’t happen as frequently as it should.)
In this post, though, I’d like to address the former—the Emotional thang. How? Chapter 5 of my memoir. What lies below is an edited version of a letter I sent to my friends upon their graduation from the University of Michigan:
(Or, A Lesson in Profound and Tear-Jerking Friendship)
I’m an American, which means I’m a consumer of Hollywood. (Note: “Consumer” can be read as “victim” depending upon your physical and mental proximity to that aforementioned Hollywood place.) In turn, I’m a dreamer. The ramifications of this run far and wide, but the most salient in the trajectory of my life’s narrative has been the division of my life into two separate entities: one happening in real-time in real life and the other happening at uncontrollable speeds in my head. Now, if the two were tightly bound as one, I’d have a stressless and anxietyless existence and therefore wouldn’t have the thoughts and feelings I have. (Like: “Yeah so this relationship isn’t going to work because you’re just not, like, James Franco. Ha. Ha. But no seriously. You should probably leave the table now. But leave the bread sticks. And could you cover the tab on this one? I forgot my wallet kloveyouthanksbye.”)
That said, if my time at the University of Michigan was manifested in a Hollywood flick, my feeling is it’d be reduced to a thirty-second montage as a part of the painfully slow second act of a generic drama about a football player who has a traumatic brain injury and is bed-ridden for the rest of his collegiate career. Which is to say it’d be nothing like my time at Michigan. I’m unsure, however, if even an indie drama directed with the heart and soul of someone like Spike Jonze could efficiently and appropriately capture the nostalgia I feel toward the people I met during my time in the heaven that is Ann Arbor.
With consideration to the fact that my name would be changed to Peter, a possible montage from the indie screenplay may look a little something like this:
INT. SUBURBAN CAFÉ – EARLY EVENING
Peter takes a seat at an empty table closest to the window. Hilly landscapes fill the wide expanse outside.
He looks down at his iPad and presses PLAY. A tear-jerking song like “Breath Me” by Sia starts playing. What he sees on his electronic thing fills our screen:
SERIES OF SHOTS
A. North Campus during winter. A group of friends crowd into a small dorm room and eat Easy Mac while watching the Paris Hilton sex tape.
B. Group of friends pre-game. Eight shots taken in a row. People begin yelling “Standard 8!!!” which soon turns into “Standard 12!!!”
C. Frankenmuth, MI. Look of confusion on friend’s faces as they attempt to determine if they’re in a German village, a normal village, or Santa’s Land.
D. Group drives to Kroger to buy more Easy Mac.
E. Peter fails to learn the Michigan cheer at a football games because he’s thinking about how the hot straight men are about to start banging into each other.
F. Group gets rejected from a frat party. They eventually get in and proceed to get disgustingly drunk off beer. Peter dances funnily. People laugh at this.
G. Peter drives home with parents the summer after freshman year and tries to hold back tears while gripping his pillow like a little girl.
H. Peter’s goodbye party before transferring to another school. Everyone cries uncontrollably at various moments throughout the night.
Peter presses a button. The film continues in slow motion:
I. Peter visits Michigan years later and tells everyone he’s gay. Tears and hugs.
J. Peter visits again a few months later to see his friends graduate. Realizes during a party that he’ll never be together again with those people in that exact time and place.
Peter presses another button. The song stops.
Peter wipes away a tear and begins packing up. We travel through the window and high above the sloppy expanse, past the small café and the town it rests in until–
FADE TO BLACK.
While my Michigan experience is over and, in truth, I’ll never exist with those people in that exact time and place ever again, I’ll be holding it tight in my head because I have so many fucking great memories from those two years and I’ll never, ever let them go. Even if The Injury or Garden Place (That’s what the aforementioned Hollywood and indie flops will be called, respectively.) tries to reduce them to a montage. Michigan taught me that happiness is inextricably linked to the people with whom you surround yourself and that friends, not your GPA or twelve shots of cheap vodka, define who you are.
And now a sample from Chapter 6:
(Or, A Lesson in Hipster/Homosexuality)
We should get a few things straight from the start: NYU is not a real college, and even if a male student at NYU says he’s straight, there’s an 86% chance he’s lying. While University of Michigan is a real college, I found NYU to be a fictional bubble where an ostensibly large amount of students frolicked around Manhattan like they were made of money and connections.
A sketch of a stereotypical NYU student lies below:
An NYU Student Experiences the Five Stages of Grief in Five Days, and then Experiences a False Sense of Maturity
Day 1: Denial
I’m not a hipster.
Day 2: Anger
I, like, totally hate hipsters and everything they stand for.
Day 3: Bargaining
OK so just to be sure people don’t think I’m a hipster, I’ll stop strategically messing up my hair every morning, but I’m not going to stop charging my Urban Outfitter shopping sprees to my parents credit card.
Day 4: Depression
My. Hair. Isn’t. Messy. Enough. Argh.
Day 5: Acceptance
Who the fuck cares if I don’t really know what irony is?! I’m proud to be a real live hipster!! East Williamsburg, here I come!!!
Sometimes, dear reader(s), I didn’t want to be at NYU and my heart panged for Michigan. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg were college dropouts, so why couldn’t I be a dropout? I used to ask myself that, but this thought always followed: Most of us aren’t Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. In the word of Woody Allen: Despair.