Hanging Out at College

Spending time with my daughter on the campus of her college inevitably floods me with a swirling jigsaw of thoughts and emotions. Despite the huge differences between her school and the university where I spent my undergrad years (not to mention the different time period, culture we live in, geographical location and a bunch of other factors) memory is a big part of what happens for me when I visit her.

Strolling the beautiful campus holding hands with my 20 year old, I remember (in that flawed way that memory works) being young. I distantly, but oddly distinctly, remember the feeling of youth. When everything worked well – from knee joints to the ability to metabolize alcohol. More than that, though. Being young, the future was absurdly enormous in front of me, as it is for both my children today. It was a giant silk scarf that stretched all the way to the horizon. Where I am now, in 2013, I am standing in the midst of the silk, more than half of which stretches out behind me, somewhat trodden on, ripped in spots and a little faded. But after all, silk is a bit fragile, and precious, and it will show the signs of wear….

I remember that, like my daughter, I loved everything about the experience of college. The grown-upness (ironic considering what children we are when we are in college). The freedom. The limitlessness. The I-make-my-own-rules thing that is seductive and treacherous and glorious indeed. The countless opportunities to encounter and learn from smart people, whether the professor-types who shed light on everything from ancient Chinese history to the poetry of Pushkin, or all the other types. The ones who introduced me to (basically) sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. And the myriad “stuff” that one finds under that rather expansive umbrella.

I remember that, though there were moments of dread, when a book had to be read or a paper written in a short period of rapidly collapsing time, or when I was (inexplicably) late turning in my applications for the next semester’s Pell grant, the sun always seemed to be shining, even on rainy days.

Walking around campus with her, I look at the students, who could not possibly be more than 12 years old, and listen to them. So smart. So sure. So articulate. So informed. So righteous. So funny. I feel a heck of a lot of hope when I think—maybe some of the folks in this generation will get us out of the mess we’re in today because of some of the jerks in my generation.

But I even find myself thinking very fondly of my parental peers. Sitting in some of the special lectures they set up for parents and alumni on this “Celebration Weekend” I listen to the incisive questions, enjoy the curiosity and endearing liveliness of “my generation.” None of these parents seem like jerks. They have produced children who love their college and their parents enough to want to bring them together for a weekend. These folks sent their kids to a progressive, arts-saturated, intellectually-liberal liberal arts school. A place where they can learn to question gender roles stamped on our culture by the patriarchy. And learn that what they see is not always what is there and that they must always question and analyze and carry grains of salt around with them. And be inspired by past generations of artists, writers, and musicians so that they can become artists, writers, and musicians who have figured out how inspiration diverges from imitation.

There is a whirlwind of almost palpable thinking happening around me, swirling in colorfully invisible spirals through the atmosphere, and I find it exciting.

I hope colleges never go away. I long for everyone who wants this experience to be able to benefit from it. Brains and hearts and bodies playing together in –yeah, sure, a hothouse of sorts –make something that is altogether new. The motto at my daughter’s school is that creative thinking matters. And it does. The creative thinking of the individual can be great indeed when the individual lives in community with the many who challenge and provoke, who can laugh like children and think like sage adults, and who enrage and soothe the savage beasts of doubt and arrogance in turn.

These young millennials really think about their roles within society. The contributions they will make. The reasons for things they refuse to simply accept as “just the way things are.” Even their sexuality. They analyze their pot-induced thoughts. They analyze their reading-induced thoughts. They even analyze their thought-induced thoughts. They wince in humility when their professors baldly praise them. And when their friends praise them, they give hugs and praise in return. And they are ridiculously adorable.

Hula-hoops are still around. And loud music on the quad. And dance parties. Which is so reassuring.

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Get Sick

I don’t want to talk about what is going on in Washington. But I can’t justify not talking about it. So I’m going to just say some shit and then move on.

Because I do think about it. It enters my consciousness through Facebook, NPR and Jon Stewart. Seriously? How liberal middle class of me.  I read about it, diligently. I hear about it, committedly. I sign petitions, daily. But I realize – beyond my outraged intellect, it is not touching me. Which is wrong.

Why should hearing-impaired students stop receiving therapy that will let them use their voices to demand a better government? Why should government workers who live paycheck to paycheck lose their incomes, default on their rents and have to decide between gas for their cars or milk for their children? How long before they can’t afford either and have to sell their cars? Why should research about outbreaks stop at the CDC (especially while diseases prepare to spread exponentially thanks to global warming)? Why should a few white guys in Washington have the right to be petulant and why should I have the luxury of having my hair colored and cut and my nails done? I can still feed my cats—and myself. My daughter can still go to class—and to parties. The lights are still on—and the dishwasher.

What will be the breaking point when people like me have to turn on NPR to be reminded that poor losers in Washington would rather pout and shut down the government than accept a law that has been legally passed and vetted by the highest court in the union? When does “government shutdown” start to hurt everyone? Enough for the shift to happen. The masses to rise up. The enemy to retreat.

We need to feel the fingernails corkscrewing our upper arms for a wicked pinch. We need to choke on the vinegar forced down our throats. We have to wake up to the flea bites from fleas we cannot repel no matter how hard we try. We need to be sick of it. Just plain sick of it.